Say What You Will
by Cammie McGovern
Released on: June 3rd, 2014
Published by: HarperTeen
Rating: 4.5 stars
Word rating: MY EMOTIONS
Reviewed by: Blythe
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.
In my experience, it’s a rare thing to find to find a novel that portrays physical disabilities and mental disorders as brilliantly as Say What You Will does. Nearly everything about Say What You Will is difficult to come across, with its searing emotion, sparkling wit, and beautiful writing; and I loved it all. Usually, a novel dealing with disorders or disabilities of some kind ends up feeling emotionally manipulative, but thankfully this is not the case with Say What You Will. Cammie McGovern is talented enough of a writer to not have to rely on cheap gimmicks to make her readers feel what she wants them to; a truly effective and emotional reading experience calls for strongly built characters and believably built relationships, and that is exactly what Cammie McGovern accomplishes with Say What You Will, and then some.
Say What You Will is told from two alternating perspectives: that of Amy, a girl with cerebral palsy whose mother has assigned her peer helpers to guide her through her senior year of high school; and that of Matthew, a peer helper chosen to aid Amy, who suffers from an at times crippling case of OCD. As the novel progresses, as does their relationship, and what starts out as a friendship eventually turns into a relationship as realistic and sensitive as it gets.
McGovern’s characterization is fantastic, especially with Amy, who I think will probably be at least in my top five favorite characters of 2014 by the end of the year. Her character arc is extremely impacting, and shows an amazing and poignant depiction of loneliness and depression unlike anything I’ve read before, and the same goes for the male lead, Matthew. Although I was less fond of Matthew than I was Amy, he is still a great and well-rounded character. His disorder—OCD, which I find is often portrayed irreverently—is written honestly and packs quite a few punches; it’s not pretty, but mental disorders rarely (if ever) are, and McGovern embraces that in her writing and characters. I can’t possibly put to words how much I ended up caring for both of these characters and their relationship, and despite the minimal “romance” in the relationship, I found myself swooning and cheering for its developments. Amy’s wit, unapologetic bluntness and her adorableness versus Matthew’s guardedness made for an interesting dynamic for their relationship, and I loved seeing Matthew’s character unfold as he got more comfortable with Amy, and her with him; it’s an extremely realistic and touching relationship, and in the end neither of the characters are defined solely by their disabilities, which I really appreciated.
There are a lot of emotional twists thrown at us towards the latter half of the novel, but none of them manage to feel contrived. Every single one of the emotions I felt while reading Say What You Will were authentic: when I cried, it didn’t feel like when you cry at a Nicholas Sparks book; I didn’t feel like I had been taken advantage of by a cheap ploy. Cammie McGovern gets you so involved in her characters’ lives such that when something goes even slightly awry, it was as if I was right there feeling those emotions with the characters, and I cared so much about it all.
The one thing keeping me from giving this the five stars I so want to give it is that Matthew is, at times, a bit harsh. His behavior in these instances are written off as side effects of his disorder, which I understand, but his slut shaming is a bit too much at times. He’s a very good character, and one I do find likable overall, but the unfortunate (and entirely unnecessary) bits of slut shaming and other emotional manipulation from him were a bit much at times, and took away from his character in the long run.
At times heartbreaking and other times delightful, Say What You Will is pure emotion taking the form of an exceptionally well-written novel. With amazing writing, lifelike characters, and humor and characters that will appeal to fans of Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything (which I also loved), Say What You Will is an honest and thoughtful read that shouldn’t be missed.