A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn a lot about the challenges of having cerebral palsy and not being able to communicate verbally. They'll also learn a bit out obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and some ways to treat it, including medication. Hemiplegia is explained. Yeats' poem "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" is fully reproduced, and a passage from the novel Tell Me that You Love Me, Junie Moon is quoted. Some information about preeclampsia is given. Kids also will learn a bit about the medical problems facing babies born prematurely and the lifelong impact it can have on their health.
Characters with cerebral palsy and OCD are presented as regular people with the same problems and the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. There are many ways to be a freak. Most people are still trying to figure out what it is they want to say with their lives. As part of his healing process, Matthew learns that something of the past dies every time things change -- but that's OK. Our society's deeply seeded sexism is glimpsed briefly when Matthew, who's threatened by change, notices that boys return to school after the summer having grown four inches and girls return "dressed like their older, slutty sisters."
Positive Role Models
Amy's an intelligent, academically driven overachiever who wants to take her place in the world; has something to say and is unafraid to say it; and is a creative problem solver. She has a lot of common-sense wisdom she applies to helping her friends. Matthew's caring and loyal and sees things through to the end. Amy's parents are loving, but her mother is overprotective and a source of conflict as Amy strives for greater independence.
Violence & Scariness
Postpartum bleeding is mentioned once.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There are a couple of kisses, and a couple lie in bed together with their clothes on. Talk about sex is infrequent but frank, and there are no detailed descriptions; teens are matter-of-fact about it, and the book furthers the idea that many or most high-school kids have sex. STDs are mentioned, but none is specifically named. A character admits to watching pornography to learn about the mechanics of sex. A high school senior gets pregnant and makes decisions about her pregnancy without telling her parents or the father; her decision and its aftermath are a main focus of the last third of the book. The medical advice she receives after a doctor's exam is narrated, but no part of the exam itself is described. Postpartum bleeding is mentioned.
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"S--t" and variations of "f--k" are used three or four times each. Used once or twice each: "boobs," "pissed," "crap," and "dick." There's a joke from a movie that uses "c--t" as a pun.
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Products & Purchases
Izod, Hot Dog on a Stick, McDonald's, Mini Speak, Bluetooth, J.C. Penney, Naugahyde, and Google Maps are mentioned once or twice each. Taco Bell is mentioned four or five times, and an important scene takes place there. DynaVox speech-assistance devices are mentioned several times.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Matthew takes medication to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. Once, friends pass marijuana around, and Matthew pretends to smoke it. Amy willingly helps someone smuggle alcohol into the prom, and many kids, including Amy, drink some of it. Some kids are mentioned as being very drunk. Adults give a minor character champagne, and it's implied that he and Amy drink it.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Say What You Will is an unusual high school romance that has themes of teen sex, and issues arising from it are prominent and frankly discussed, but nothing's directly described. The romance is between a girl with cerebral palsy who uses a speech-assistance device and a boy with OCD, and the novel tracks their relationship as it deepens over the course of their senior year. They're both admirable characters who overcome a great deal and who demonstrate a lot of maturity despite a few lapses in judgment. Strong language (including "s--t" and variations of "f--k") is infrequent, and there's no violence.
Is It Any Good?
Teens who loved The Fault in Our Stars will really enjoy SAY WHAT YOU WILL. It's a sweet, complicated, and compelling romance in which medical issues are prominent but aren't the defining characteristics of the two protagonists.
The writing in adult-novelist Cammie McGovern's YA debut doesn't quite sparkle like John Green's in TFIOS, but Amy and Matthew are utterly believable as characters. Their disabilities make them human, but it's their flaws that make them relatable. The deepening friendship between them takes unexpected twists and turns that will keep readers absorbed in and engaged with their story, and the ending should spark some interesting discussions about where their relationship is headed.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.