Monday, September 10, 2018
Middle Grade Monday and Arc Review: Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt
Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt. 304 p. Candlewick Press, November 6, 2018. 9781536200928. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)
Happy Monday TMS Readers! Middle Grade Monday features one of the oddest, but most unique and intense debuts I have ever read. In Speechless, our narrator, Jimmy is attending his first wake and funeral. He's uncomfortable because he's wearing last year's suit with a waistband so tight he fears the button will not hold and he can't find his only belt. He's uncomfortable because funeral rituals are strange and sometimes scary. He is uncomfortable and terrified because his mother has just told him that he has to deliver the eulogy.
You see, the wake and funeral are for his cousin, Patrick. Jimmy petrified of public speaking; but that's not the only reason why he does not want to speak at Patrick's funeral. He couldn't stand Patrick. They were constantly thrown together because their moms are twins and very close. Jimmy and Patrick were not. Something was wrong with Patrick and none of the adults around him could do much to control him. Time spent with Patrick meant Jimmy's day would be ruined - by getting hurt, by having something stolen or ruined or by one of Jimmy's famous meltdowns. How can he speak honestly at Patrick's funeral?
The story takes place in about twenty-four hours at the funeral home and at the church; but much of the story consists of flashbacks as Jimmy considers his highly dysfunctional extended family. Jimmy wants to do the right thing but wonders what that is. Does he get up there and lie about what a great kid Patrick was or tell the truth?
Speechless is not for everyone. It's layered and sophisticated and while there are humorous moments to lighten the mood, there is tragedy in this story and it's not just because a young person has died. I am a bit stumped as to what sort of reader I would recommend it to; not because it isn't superb but because of all the emotions it evoked in me. I am having a hard time envisioning how a young reader would engage with it. As I got to know Jimmy, my rage at his parents grew and grew. First, that they would even just bring their son to his first wake and funeral without preparing him for what would happen and then the expectation that he would, in less than twenty-four hours come up with a eulogy - without the least amount of parental support or guidance! Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they did nothing to protect Jimmy from Patrick.
Schmitt's portrayal of this dysfunctional, co-dependent family is masterful. Jimmy is a sympathetic character that readers will want to protect. I hope Speechless finds its readers and am looking forward to reading more from Adam P. Schmitt. Impressive debut.