Whisper to Me

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Whisper to Me Book Poster Image
Riveting mystery surrounds teen who hears voice in her head.

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Explores coping with and destigmatizing mental illness, living with someone who has PTSD. Explains that some mental illnesses (with symptoms such as hearing voices) sometimes aren't disease-type illnesses but rather are the mind's way of dealing with trauma and that they can be improved and successfully managed. Resources for teens in the U.S. and U.K. with mental illness. Author's note explains the real basis for finding the root trauma and learning how to cope. A Greek word is translated and defined. A few Greek myths are recounted. Many references to classical literature.

Positive Messages

Things will get better. There are treatments and coping strategies that will make a big difference; don't give up on finding what works for you. There are some things we can't control and some things we just can't know. We're powerless against so much, and sometimes there's no closure or justice, so we just have to cling to the people close to us. People come into your life, and sometimes they're just gone. But they never really leave us entirely; they'll always be a part of us.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cass is likable and relatable. She's asking for the chance to make up for her mistakes that have hurt people, and she's learned to be honest about herself with those she wants to be close to. She also learns that there are some things she can't or shouldn't do on her own, that help is available, and that coping is difficult but it gets better. Her dad likely has untreated PTSD, so although he loves Cass, their relationship is fraught. Best friend Paris is a few years older, very smart and magnetic, but works as a stripper and "cam girl." Cass wishes she wouldn't; Paris insists that she's safe because she doesn't allow touching.

Violence

An uncaught serial killer is a prominent backdrop to the story. Nothing about it is directly narrated, but speculation and investigation include things like possibly dumping bodies in the ocean. A severed foot is described with mild gore. A past military operation with gunfire, bombs, injuries, and pain but no gore. Blood on a tiled floor mentioned several times. Detailed description of an armed robbery. A fatal blow to the head mentions blood and narrates emotional trauma, otherwise no gore. The best friend is missing and feared dead. Descriptions of self-harm with some detail but no gore, such as injecting self with epinephrine that isn't needed, walking hard into walls, hitting yourself hard. The self-harm events are not glorified, and the plot involves the protagonist's efforts to cope and eventually to stop altogether. Cass' mother died violently three years before.

Sex

Best friend Paris is a stripper who poses nude online. Cass accidentally sees male "junk" (private parts) and is horrified. A few instances of kissing; one includes taking tops off. Hooking up mentioned a couple of times. It's mentioned a few times that the serial killer's victims are "sex workers."

Language

Narrator Cass uses asterisks in place of swear words. Other characters' profanity is spelled out and includes "s--t," "slut," "Jesus" as exclamation, "ass," "bitch," and one instance of "f--king."

Consumerism

Mention of car makes and clothing, food, alcoholic beverages, technology, medication brands, and social media products establish location and character. An early '90s rapper and his biggest hit are a prominent clue to the mystery.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

College-age teens drink beer, and one frequents a bar after work. Cass (about 16) takes a sip of vodka once to calm down but otherwise doesn't drink and turns down several invitations. Best friend Paris buys and drinks a beer on the boardwalk. An employer asks someone to make a delivery if he's not already too drunk. Prescription antipsychotics and mood stabilizers mentioned several times along with side effects. EpiPen mentioned several times, and injecting it once as a self-punishment is described in detail. Outpatients mention Diazepam, Valium, Haldol, risperidone, Xanax, and methadone. Minor or background characters occasionally smoke. One character's bad breath smells of cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Whisper to Me, by Printz Award-winning author Nick Lake (In Darkness), tells the story of a teen learning to cope with mental illness. After she finds a human foot on the beach, Cass starts to hear a voice that curses at her, puts her down, and threatens to harm her loved ones if she doesn't hurt herself. It's a harrowing journey at times, but the ending is hopeful. It'll get teens thinking about how the mind copes with trauma, provide insights, and help lessen the "crazy" stigma. It also sends strong positive messages about how different kinds of treatment and strategies can help, to keep trying until you find what works for you, and that it will get better. The plot also involves some mystery around a missing friend and a serial killer who's murdering sex workers. Past traumas are described mentioning blood but no other gore. Sexual content is infrequent with a few kisses, but the best friend (a few years older) is a stripper who poses nude online. Strong language isn't frequent but includes "f--king" once and "ass," "bitch," and "s--t" several times each.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

Walking on the beach in the summer between junior and senior years, Cass discovers a human foot that's washed ashore -- which is more than enough to rattle anybody, but the town of Oakwood, New Jersey, has a serial killer on the loose, and Cass fears the foot may belong to one of his victims. Now Cass hears a voice when no one's around, and the voice is not nice. It curses, tells her she's worthless, and, worst of all, makes her hurt herself.  Eventually she's hospitalized and given drug treatments, and she finds a support group for people who hear voices. As her newly learned coping strategies are starting to help, her best friend mysteriously disappears, and Cass fears the worst. At the same time, her budding romance with a cute guy in town for the summer starts to fall apart. Afraid of losing him, Cass tries to hide what she's going through and ends up digging herself into a deeper and deeper hole. But he's the only one she wants to WHISPER TO ME, so if she finally comes clean, will he forgive all the lies and the hurt?

Is it any good?

Nick Lake takes on quite a lot with this story of a teen's struggle with mental illness, and he's more than up to the task. There's plenty here to keep the pages turning: mysteries including a serial killer, past trauma, a dad with PTSD, and a missing friend; the intriguing, sometimes harrowing exploration of Cass' struggle against the voice that tells her to hurt herself; and, of course, the budding romance. Lake balances all these aspects, keeping the plot moving and seamlessly shifting from one to another without short-changing any.

Cass' utterly believable narrative voice creates a likable, relatable protagonist who destigmatizes mental problems and could encourage the estimated 10 percent of teens who experience them by assuring us all that it can get better with help.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how trauma affects the mind. Notice how differently Cass and her father cope (or don't cope) with their different past traumas. What do you think of Dr. Lewis' strategies? Do they seem realistic and doable? What about drug therapies?

  • Cass doesn't seem to like what Paris does for a living, but she doesn't say anything to Paris about it. Should she have? Have you ever tried to talk someone out of something you thought was dangerous or bad for them? How did it go?

  • Do you think writing or typing a letter is a good way to explain yourself? If you were asking for forgiveness, would you rather do it in person or in writing? Why? Do you think Cass' letter will work?

Book details

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love mystery and stories of mental illness

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate