I listened to Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern on audio and was pulled right into this unique novel. The two main characters are each disabled, in their own ways, but this is essentially a love – and friendship – story.
Amy has cerebral palsy and is quite severely disabled by it, but she is very intelligent and determined to have as much of a normal life as possible. Her mother has been her constant supporter and has always pushed Amy to excel at school. She uses a walker to get around and can’t speak without a computerized voice box to help her, but she’s an excellent student. Heading into her senior year of high school, Amy asks her mother to hire her classmates as aides for her instead of the typical adult aides she has had throughout her school career. Four students are chosen, among them, Matthew, whom Amy has specially requested because Matthew is the only peer of hers who has ever spoken to her directly and honestly.
Matthew isn’t so sure about this new job. He feels uncomfortable with Amy and isn’t quite sure how to treat her. In fact, he barely remembers the brief conversation that was life-changing for Amy. He’s also worried about his own problems. Matthew has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, though he won’t admit that even to himself. He knows he has a problem, though, as his compulsive tics and crippling fears can easily paralyze him.
As their senior year progresses, Amy and Matthew slowly, gradually get to know each other and become friends. They each find themselves trusting the other – for the first time – and confiding in each other. In fact, their friendship might possibly become something more, though for all their conversations, they never seem to say what is really important.
I liked everything about this book. There is so much here for teens – of all abilities – to relate to. I immediately liked both Amy and Matthew. Amy seems super-confident on the outside due to her academic achievements, but on the inside, she is like any other teen – worried about how she appears to her peers and wanting people to like her. Matthew helps her to see that she doesn’t have any real friends, even though she’s been in classes with the same kids since elementary school – everyone is a little afraid of her because of her disabilities which act like a fence between her and her classmates. Matthew’s problems are just as obvious to his peers – though he thinks he hides them – and he is an outcast, too.
I loved that this novel deals so openly with two different kinds of disabilities. Through Amy and Matthew, the reader learns exactly what it is like to have CP or OCD, and it is an enlightening and eye-opening journey. McGovern even deals honestly with topics that are often considered taboo, like sex for someone with a disability and other difficult topics (I don’t want to give away any spoilers!).
At its heart, this novel is about two people, each with his or her own unique issues, finding each other and connecting with someone for the first time. It’s about the worries and fears and insecurities everyone faces in high school and beyond, as they try to figure out who they are and what is their place in the world. I was rooting for Amy and Matthew to be honest with each other, to cast away their fears and grab that special connection while they could. Say What You Will captured my attention…and my heart.
(You can listen to an audio sample and read an interview with the author - she is actress Elizabeth McGovern's sister! - at the Amazon link below)