Review: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

June 3, 2014

Title: Say What You Will
Author: Cammie McGovern
Publication date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Source: Publisher (Edelweiss)
Amazon Goodreads TBD
John Green's The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel. Cammie McGovern's insightful young adult debut is a heartfelt and heartbreaking story about how we can all feel lost until we find someone who loves us because of our faults, not in spite of them.

Born with cerebral palsy, Amy can't walk without a walker, talk without a voice box, or even fully control her facial expressions. Plagued by obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matthew is consumed with repeated thoughts, neurotic rituals, and crippling fear. Both in desperate need of someone to help them reach out to the world, Amy and Matthew are more alike than either ever realized.

When Amy decides to hire student aides to help her in her senior year at Coral Hills High School, these two teens are thrust into each other's lives. As they begin to spend time with each other, what started as a blossoming friendship eventually grows into something neither expected.
"This is the book I've been waiting for all year. Thank you, Cammie McGovern", is what I thought just as I slowly turned the last page on Say What You Will, a few lingering tears still on my cheeks.

You all know how I haven't really had a great year, reading wise. Most of the books I've read this year fall between the 'meh' and 'Huh. That was nice... ish' categories. The reason I requested Say What I Will in the first place was because I have this fascination with books that deal with not-so-ideal scenarios, and Say What You Will was right up the lane. I was, however, a little leery of starting it (and even had some starting troubles) because of the blurb that compares it to John Green and Rainbow Rowell. See, I generally don't like the kind of blurbs that compare with other authors. I think they're misleading and often lure the reader into buying a book simply because of those names. So when I saw two of my favourite authors' names up there, you can be sure it raised my hackles. But then, when I got through a few chapters I began seeing how this story really did deserve all the praise it got (and will no doubt get), and settled in for a nice long read that will probably be my best this year.

Amy is a young girl with cerebral palsy, who walks with the help of a walker, and uses a computer to talk. The end of her junior year, she realises that she doesn't really have any friends, and resolves to change that her senior year. So instead of having adult aides, her parents hire peer aides from her own year who can assist between classes and help expand her almost non existent friends circle. One of her aides is Matthew (who, incidentally, is also the one who brought home to her how she's really a stranger to everyone), a boy with compulsive habits, overanxious thoughts and irrational fears that make normal functioning a daily battle with his mind. As Amy and Matthew become friends, they find that they help each other in ways no one else can, and even through the strains that their bond is put through, they still find their way back to each other again and again.

Say What You Will spans two years, starting from Amy and Matthew's senior year up until the end of the first year of college. But the good thing is, with the consistent and brisk pacing, you almost don't realise the amount of time that passes nor experience reading fatigue (if that's not thing, it is now). And people, the prose in this book is. To. Die. For. It's lyrical and evocative, opening up heretofore unthought of realisations to the reader. Seriously, have you ever wondered if special people like Amy have desires? Or have the ability to be desired by someone else?
People would look at me and think sex was impossible but love was not. Turns out, both are possible and also impossible.

One of the things I loved most about Say What You Will is how both Amy and Matthew are fleshed out so distinctly. There are parts of the book that are devoted separately to each, and also to how they are with each other, so we get to know both of them equally well, and root for them both. Amy is so tenacious, if she gets hold of anything, she doesn't let go until she gets all that she wants. Matthew, meanwhile, is aloof and spends a lot of his time in his head. Amy has hemiplegia, which makes part of her face slack. Matthew sees the world differently - he sees patterns in places no one would, he sees beauty in things that aren't conventionally beautiful. Both Amy and Matthew are so much more than their limitations, and at one point I actually felt that maybe its those very imperfections that make them so perfect for each other - first as friends, and then more. Another great thing is how these limitations aren't presented as limitations but rather as a part of the uniqueness that makes us all different and who we are. They're just there. That's all. Nothing to fuss about.

Both Amy's mother and the kids in Amy & Matthew's school deserve special mention here. All through her life, Amy's mother has been fighting for her daughter, forcing her to be the best that she can, while at the same time sacrificing a whole lot herself. The bond they both share is fiercer than any that an ordinary child would share with her mother (you know what they say about the bonds formed in war), while at the same time put to the same tests that the latter is put to. I was really surprised at how accepting Amy's classmates are. In my experience, special kids do not have an easy time of it in mainstream schools, but maybe it's different in the US?

Writing a story with one special person is in itself no mean feat. But two people, both with less than ideal conditions? Well, if you pull it off (as McGovern has), then good for you. But wait. How about this? How about writing a story with two special people, and incorporate themes that typically appear in stories with an average teenager? Parental pressure and opposition, career decisions, teenage pregnancy, (highlight for spoiler) etc? Hmm? Well, that's exactly what this extraordinary author has done, and it brought home to me how much we share with people like Amy and Matthew, that we are not even aware of. I'm not talking about 'having things in common' in the benevolent 'oh, we are all the same. One big happy family' kind of way. We really, really do. With all the talk these days about how we need more diverse books, Say What You Will is right up the lane. Say What You Will made me think about things I've never even dreamt of before, and I'm grateful for the experience it has given me in broadening my horizons.

I am also grateful that it was an awesome read and I'm finally, finally out of my book bad luck ;)

BOTTOMLINE: A story that will surmount all your expectations and then more, Say What You Will is one of a kind and a must read.

Candace's Book Blog: It’s a new level of diversity in YA and I think every high school classroom should have this book.

Lit Up Review: Best of all, they are both such strong people. It may not always seem like it, but even during the depths of their emotional breakdowns, I saw a hint of optimism in them.

Read, Breathe, Read: She didn’t hold back on the little details or the raw emotions that I needed to feel from each of the characters, and I loved being able to read them in Amy’s unsent emails, or in the way Matthew tried to stop his OCD from getting the better of him.

His truest smile was crooked and lifted higher on the left side than the right, which made her feel like he might understand her better, her hemiplegic face that was all crooked half smiles, too.

I have learned not to judge people by their limitations, but by the way they push past them.

How many young women have I watched weep their days away over disinterested men? Them all of them, I want to say, Look up. Get a life, because he has.

You know what you want to say. A lot of people dont... A lot of us are still trying to figure out what we want to say.