Monday, October 8, 2018

"Words We Don't Say"

K. J. Reilly graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in psychology, then headed to New York City to work in the marketing research departments of several of the largest advertising agencies in the world. She loves reading, writing, dogs, sailboats, children of all shapes and sizes, and growing her own food.

Reilly applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Words We Don't Say, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Text from Joel to Andy 3:17 a.m.

I have a few new diseases to go along with the insomnia, parasite, phlebitis, pulmonary embolism, and everything else I have. I won’t get into the details, but just so you know.

Text from Joel to Principal Redman 3:32 a.m.

That gun I told you about? I still have it.
And the guy who gave it to me?
There’s something wrong with him and someone should try to help him.
I mean, someone besides me.
In Words We Don't Say, 16-year-old Joel Higgins is struggling to come to terms with his own life issues—family, friends, school, romance, loss, religion, and definition of self—as he simultaneously tries to understand some of the more global issues in the world around him—homelessness, food insecurity, veterans, PTSD, and freedom of speech. The book is written in a combination of traditional prose and stand-alone text messages that Joel writes as a form of therapy for himself—but has no intention of ever sending. And because Joel never intends to be send these messages, they provide stark, unfiltered insight into his inner thoughts.

The only content on page 69 is two text messages and they are very emblematic of the book as a whole. They reveal a lot about Joel’s voice and character, as well as the novel’s plot. In the first text on page 69, (addressed to Andy, Joel’s best friend and time stamped at 3:17 a.m.), in only two sentences Joel reveals how pervasive his fear of death and illness is while providing readers with a hint of what may have happened to Andy. In the second text, addressed to the principal at his high school—in only four sentences—Joel establishes three critical plot points; he’s decided to keep the gun he had hidden in his garage, he’s come to understand that, on his own, he doesn't have the resources to help the homeless vet he met at the soup kitchen, and he’s up at all hours thinking about these things.

Using text messages like these as a structural element and a significant way to convey information was an interesting device to me as a writer, not only because texting is such an integral part of contemporary life, but also because the texts are a powerful form of literary reductionism; Joel’s messages reveal a lot in just a few words. Contrasting the brevity of the texts, there are lengthy, rambling inner monologues. There’s Morse code, lists, and pictograms along with discussions about banned books, the violence of words, and safe spaces. There’s a mute veteran, flawed teacher/student, friend/friend and parent/teen communication. In the broadest sense, Words We Don’t Say is an exploration of communication and how honest, open communication in all of its forms is at the heart of navigating and bettering the world.
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--Marshal Zeringue