Things You Can't Say

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Things You Can't Say Book Poster Image
Compelling story of tween grappling with his dad's suicide.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Drew works in the library, so the inner workings of libraries are displayed, a number of books named. Includes author's note about suicide, list of resources to help kids seeking emotional support.

Positive Messages

You can make friends when you keep an open mind. A little bit of chocolate always makes people feel better. It's important for everyone to talk about their feelings -- boys included. Do what's right, apologize and be honest.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Drew's mom is there for her kids, making sure they have what they need after their father took his life. The librarians at her workplace also look after Drew. Everyone in this book is White. Filipe's family is of Portuguese descent.

Violence

Drew's dad has died by suicide, a major topic in the book; it's not clear how he took his life. Drew's anger can be explosive, and he destroys his dad's things. He also wonders why people choose to kill themselves: "Do you wake up one day wanting to kill yourself? Or is it something you think about for a while first? For days, weeks, months. Years?" Drew attacks his friend Fillipe, "whaling" on him with his fists, with adult-imposed consequences for this behavior. Drew apologizes eventually.

Sex

Drew wonders if his mom and Phil had a relationship in the past. Drew nearly kisses a girl, but then he pauses, thinking to himself that that may happen in the future.

Language

"Crap," "butt."

Consumerism

Snickers, Brown University, Prius, Trader Joe's, Dory Fantasmagory, Paw Sox, Facebook, Google, Rick Riordan books, Gatorade, Star Wars, R2D2, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Ewok, Holes, The Hobbit, Chap Stick, Craigslist, Harley Davidson, Panera, Curtis Sittenfeld, Dali, Picasso, Crash Landing, Sprite, Pac-Man, Six Flags, Dr. Pepper, Del's, Gourmet, Are You My Mother?, MINI Cooper, YouTube, Hogwarts, Band-Aid, Jaws, Twinkies, Red Sox, Third Eye Blind, Pikachu, Spiderman, Lego, Playmobil, Curious George, Airbnb, Rockies, George R.R. Martin, Phish, SNL, Netflix, Midsummer Night's Dream, Hot Wheels, G.I. Joe, Aladdin, Nirvana, The Muppets, Sesame Street.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

As Drew thinks about his father's suicide, he rules out a "drinking problem, like some adults." His grandmother chews cinnamon gum to hide her cigarette breath.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Things You Can't Say is a story told from the point of view of a 12-year-old boy named Drew, whose father died by suicide when he was 9. Drew stepped in as the man of the house after his dad died, helping his mom raise his little brother, Xander, who's six years younger. Drew cooks, cleans, and has been known to give his mom back rubs when she's needed comfort. Though the reader doesn't know how Drew's dad took his life, Drew spends a lot of time thinking about whether his dad was really good at "lying," or if he really knew his dad at all. He feels like people see him as contagious, as if his dad's suicide will rub off on them. Drew's feelings get the better of him at times -- he attacks his friend Filipe, hitting him with his fists while he's on the ground. He wonders if his mom and her friend Phil are having sex when he hears banging in the next room (though he finds out that the sound is coming from something else). There's an author's note about suicide and a list of resources to help kids seeking emotional support.

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What's the story?

In THINGS YOU CAN'T SAY, 12-year-old Drew is starting another summer volunteering at the library in his Rhode Island town. His mom works upstairs, which is good, because since his dad took his life, Drew feels safer when she's around. He's taken on a lot of responsibility around the house, caring for his little brother, Xander, and generally helping his mom run the show. A new girl named Audrey has started volunteering in the library's kids' section with Drew, and though at first he feels she's intruding on his space, he finds he can share things with her that he can't tell his friend Filipe. In fact, Filipe has been hanging out with an ultra-cool eighth-grader from his soccer camp, and Drew doesn't know how to cope with the change. Even more disruptive is the fact that his mom's "old friend" Phil came zooming into their lives on a motorcycle, which he's been riding across the country. Drew is puzzled by his mom's relationship with Phil and becomes uncomfortable with the way things are going. Is he an old flame? A new flame? They seem to share a secret they don't want to tell Drew -- could they know something that will tell Drew more about himself and his dad's suicide? Drew and Audrey investigate and find out things that shed light on some family history. Drew's challenge is to feel his emotions without letting them become unmanageable.

Is it any good?

This is a compelling story of a 12-year-old sorting out his father's suicide while figuring out friends and family history during a summer in Rhode Island. Things You Can't Say explores the sense of anger and betrayal that suicide leaves behind, against a backdrop of kids streaming down the stairs to hear his stories, and a possibly cool girl who's volunteering with Drew at the library. Drew's honest voice digs into painful questions: Was his dad lying to him about loving him? Why did he abandon them? Was he ever really happy? And who is this "old friend" his mom is so interested in, anyway? An old boyfriend? A secret relative?

Kids will enjoy the realistic narrative that Drew runs in his head. There are lots of things he thinks, but not so many that he actually says. And when he does express himself, some of his words and reactions come out sounding rude, which feels right for this age group. What doesn't quite fit is a gap in the family history that seems unlikely (spoiler alert: when and where his parents met). It's a small glitch in an otherwise realistic portrayal. This is a relatable story about surviving a devastating event and how life goes on despite the tragedies people endure.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how dealing with tragedy and confusing feelings is shown in Things You Can't Say. Who do you turn to when your feelings feel overwhelming?

  • Audrey gets into trouble with new friends for googling them before she got to know them. Do you think it's normal to google someone right away? What's the difference between what's online and what's personal?

  • Are there any books or shows you know of that help kids understand depression and suicide?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love emotional stories and grief tales

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