A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- Author: Nick Lake
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
- Publication date: May 3, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 544
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
Our editors recommend
For kids who love mystery and stories of mental illness
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
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.