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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Say What You Will, by Cammie McGovern. Harper Teen, 2014. $21.99 ages 14 and up

"Amy wondered if that was really true, or if other kids with disabilities felt the way she did when she went to that camp and was surrounded by other kids with disabilities. Amy liked the idea of inspiring a community she didn't know very well. She wanted to feel a bond with them. The problem was, she didn't."

 There is so much to love about this fine debut novel, not the least of which are its unique, exasperating, worthy, and memorable lead characters. Amy is a very bright, high-achieving high school student. Oh yes, and she has cerebral palsy, uses a walker and talks with the aid of a computer. Matthew is one of Amy's peers, hired by her overprotective mother to act as an assistant to Amy for one day each week at school. Oh yes, and Matthew has OCD which often limits his ability to deal with the worries and demands of high school life.

It is at Amy's insistence that her mother hires these helpers from her senior class. Amy has spent far too much time with professional help, while making no friends and having no one close to her age to interact with on a daily basis. Matthew loves his work with Amy, feeling a connection that is strong and real. Amy finds being with Matthew easier than with her other peer assistants; she also appreciates the many small things that he does without being asked. They are strong individuals, and their difficulties are real. Their concerns for each other and their questions about their present and future relationship are sure to surprise, concern, and move those who read their very sincere story.

Amy's mother is not pleased with the feelings that Amy has for Matthew, and encourages her to spend her time with another of her more accomplished, college-bound assistants. Her interference, as usual, infuriates Amy. The resultant rebellion has a catastrophic impact on everyone. It takes time, patience and understanding to move forward.

As in any teenage friendship veering toward romance, there are ups and downs. Their friendship is at the heart of their story; and, they are honest with each other for the most part. There is balance between the two. That balance does not happen with the other teens hired to be her helpers. The underlying romantic feelings are not always voiced; their relationship is at times messy, and at times very distant. In the end they find their way to their own best place and a new footing: 

"Of course it made Matthew nervous. Everyone watching a jokey version of his own terrible struggles a year ago. That panic attack in yearbook. And later at prom. Then it was interesting - the actor didn't play the panicky part. He didn't sweat or shake. He simply sat on the sofa and refused to move. "I'm not ready," he said. "I'll let you know when I am." The more the girl pleaded, the more she seemed like the crazy one. "This is my life, not yours," he said. "I'm allowed to make the choices I want to make."

Bravo, Cammie McGovern! This is a terrific book.

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