This middle grade fiction book is an odd little ghost story about a girl who finds herself unexpectedly transported into the past and about her little brother Lucca, who’s three years old and doesn’t talk.
Siena’s family is moving from the city, Brooklyn, to coastal Maine in hope of jolting Lucca into talking again or somehow helping him. Lucca, when the story begins, hasn’t spoken a word for over a year.
I liked the story. Siena is a sympathetic character, fourteen years old, obsessed with abandoned things, a little prickly and stand-off-ish because her old friends in Brooklyn think she’s weird. As a matter of fact, she is weird: Siena sees visions of the past and know things about past events and places that she shouldn’t know. Since all of us feel a little awkward and weird at times, especially at fourteen, Siena’s visions and Lucca’s silence can be stand-ins for whatever is making the reader feel out-of-place and misunderstood. That aspect of the book worked really well.
I also liked that (minor spoiler!) we never do find out why Lucca quit talking. He simply tells Siena, eventually, that he just doesn’t want to speak. Sometimes, contrary to our psychologically fixated society, kids just do stuff and make decisions for reasons that make sense to them but to no one else. And if they make bad decisions or crazy decisions or even inexplicable decisions, it’s not always someone’s fault. I liked that Lucca just didn’t want to talk. Actually, I had a child who was not totally silent, but who didn’t want to talk to anyone outside our house for a long time, so she didn’t. She grew out of it.
One thing bothered me about the book: SIena, when she is in the past is able to talk to a young man named Joshua who is suffering from PTSD or depression or some combination thereof and get him to “come back” to his family who are suffering because of his illness and withdrawal. She says:
“What will happen if you don’t is what I told you: all the people you love are going to fall apart. Their lives will be full of the darkness you’ve brought home. They will remain faceless to you. But if you get up, if you try to let a little of it go, if you make new happy memories, you can have them back.”
So Joshua “comes back.” The same thing happened in another middle grade novel I read recently, The Absolute Value of Mike by Katherine Erskine. Mike gets mad at his great-uncle, an old man who is depressed and guilty because of the death of his adult son, and the words Mike says to his great uncle Poppy somehow snap him out of his lethargy and depression and bring him to full recovery.
It’s unrealistic and puts a lot of pressure on kids to imply that if they just talk to a loved one who is depressed or grieving and say the right words and tell the person to snap out of it, they can bring that loved one back from the brink. Yes, sometimes people who are experiencing a mild depression can bring themselves back and recover with the help of wise words from another person who loves them. But sometimes, often, it takes more than a good talking-to. It takes medication or time or therapy or many talks or prayer or?
Nevertheless, I liked Listening for Lucca, and I recommend it with the above caveat. It was a sweet book. (I liked The Absolute Value of Mike, too, but I never managed to get a review posted. Great book, quirky misfit characters, good story-telling, even though a bit unbelievable.)