A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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."
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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."
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Products & Purchases
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.
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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.
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.
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