Review Blog

Feb 13 2017

Whisper to me by Nick Lake

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2016. ISBN 9781408853863
A complex, absorbing and gripping read for senior secondary students. ALA Best fiction for young adults 2017. Themes: Mental illness, schizophrenia, hearing voices, family trauma, friendship, love. Cassie is a bright senior student who reads widely and particularly likes the Greek myths, partly because of her namesake, Cassandra who was condemned by the gods to foresee true prophesies about the future that no one believed, and partly because she spends a lot of time in the library, a sanctuary from social isolation and bullying at school. Her Dad an ex-Navy SEAL who now runs a pizza restaurant, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, not only from his war experiences but also from the violent death of Cassie's mother. When Cassie discovers a severed foot on the beach, a possible victim of a local serial killer, she starts to hear a voice which will not leave her alone. On one level she recognizes a link to the buildup of traumatic events in her life, but she is unable to ignore it, blaming and punishing her. The voice becomes all-consuming further isolating her from her dad and others, filling her summer holiday days with punishing tasks and abusive comments. Then two boys arrive to rent a room over their garage while working summer jobs at the New Jersey beach. Cass is attracted to one but at this critical moment the voice forces her to self-harm and she ends up in hospital diagnosed with psychotic dissociation and possible schizophrenia. Medication makes the voice go away but it strips her of vitality. When she meets vivacious, charismatic, bipolar Paris in the hospital it is as if she is thrown a lifeline. Their friendship develops and Cassie learns about her voice in a support group. It is not an easy trip and there are no answers but she works hard to understand her situation and regain some control. At the same time she is falling in love for the first time but she can't bring herself to be honest about her condition and ends up breaking his heart. The narrative is a letter to the unnamed 'you', finally telling him the truth and in doing so, examining the cracks in their lives and moving forward in spite of them. There is much that we never know in this novel but we gain tremendous insight into how we cope when the unthinkable happens. The author's note asserts that in spite of mental illness life can get better and with help it will. He goes on to list organisations in the USA and UK. The equivalent in Australia are: https://www.mindaustralia.org.au/ and http://hvna.net.au/
Sue Speck

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