Two diffident teenagers with communication issues fall in love in this endearing romance.
Silence, Deborah Lytton’s second novel for young adults, concerns the unlikely match between a Broadway-bound singer who experiences temporary deafness after an accident and a pianist with a speech impediment and a traumatic past. It is a touching story about the forces that so often threaten us into silence and the struggle to find a voice anyway.
Fifteen-year-old Stella Layne comes alive when she sings. When she secures the lead role in the school production of West Side Story, her Broadway dream seems one step closer. It’s love at first sight when crazy-haired pianist Hayden Rivers walks into the first play rehearsal. Before they can get acquainted, though, Stella falls at a rowdy party and strikes her head on concrete, losing her hearing. In the seventeen days between her accident and a cochlear implant surgery, Stella and Hayden—who saved her life—conduct a whirlwind romance even though she is temporarily deaf. Will she still love him once she realizes he stutters?
The novel alternates chapters from Stella’s and Hayden’s first-person perspectives. The irony is that although Hayden stumbles when he speaks, he has the much more fluid written voice. Most of Stella’s narration is in unnaturally short sentences, like “I am a nobody. Invisible. Silent … Most of the time. Except when I sing.” By contrast, Hayden is given to poetic, if overblown, musings: “The connection between us has grown as strong as the roots of a hundred-year-old tree grounded in the earth.”
Lytton creates believable backstories for her characters to explain why they are both wary of love. Stella is a child of divorce, and takes her actress-turned-accountant mother as a cautionary tale of the dangers of giving up a dream of stardom for marriage and motherhood. Meanwhile, Hayden was abandoned by his abusive mother to be raised by his grandparents. His mantra, one Stella seems to share, is “Love brings pain. Don’t let yourself fall in love.”
All the more heartwarming, then, that two communication-compromised characters form a viable couple. Hayden’s stammer allows Stella to lip-read, plus they text like ordinary teens; they also explore other senses on their dates: painting pottery, picking strawberries, watching dolphins at the beach, and baking cookies. As they exchange poems and photos, they are healing each other. Whether or not Stella regains her hearing, Hayden insists, “She needs to learn that there is more to life than what she has always thought”—including true love.
Teens who enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars and Gracefully Grayson should find plenty to relate to in this novel about different forms of communication and finding confidence despite setbacks.
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