Review: Voiceless

Voiceless by Caroline Wissing is a literary Young Adult novel that tells the story of Annabel Cross, alias Ghost, who has lost her voice, her home, and almost all of her hope. As the story starts, we find her living in the country with a foster family and longing to be reunited with her mother, a woman who has never managed to shake her dependence on drugs and violent men. But a new boy arrives at the foster home and introduces yet another complication to Ghost's already difficult life.

We work both backward and forward with Ghost, finding out how she has become voiceless and abandoned, and how she works through a complicated adolescence, making some foolish choices, and paying dearly for them. She eventually has to take her life into her own hands, and step out into the unknown, completely alone.

Wissing writes beautifully, evoking a powerful sense of place.  She is a master of the telling detail, making a setting click into place with one or two sure strokes. Her characters are also drawn with a sure hand, their different voices and personalities clear on the page.

If there is any quibble I have with this book, is that it is perhaps too realistic. Ghost is not your typical novel heroine, being rather passive most of the time and trying to duck down out of her problems, rather than facing and defying them. She only takes action when pushed to it out of direst need, and her supply of initiative dries up rather quickly. This is entirely consistent with the way many people live their lives, but it did leave the book feeling rather directionless for a while.

But Ghost and her story are bound to live in your head for a long time after you put the book down, and Voiceless is a fine example of the excellence that can often be found in the Young Adult category. Bleakness and beauty, horror and hope, undeserved suffering and unexpected grace come together to stir and challenge us.

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