Elective mutes are people who choose not to talk, usually as a result of some traumatic event. Lily is an elective mute. She hasn’t spoken for two years. She feels invisible. And everyone in the small town of Olena thinks Lily is brain-damaged.
But when Tinny Bridges comes to town, Lily is in trouble. Somehow Tinny knows things, knows that Lily isn’t brain-damaged, knows that Lily has other secrets. And Tinny is mean enough to threaten Lily’s hard-won bargain with the past and her precarious hold on silence.
Wow! This story is both intriguing and well-written. Ms. Beaty’s descriptions sparkle. Here’s an example:
“Sometimes, when the store is crowded, there are four or five stories going at the same time, and the women’s voices swirl around in the air and bubble up and splash like water on rocks. The sound is smooth and sweet.
If we had a real creek in Olena, I think it would sound like Fern’s store on Saturday mornings.”
The story moves back and forth from the present to the past with the material from the past in italics. For the most part, this technique works, but it could be confusing for some kids. The story is worth a little confusion, though. It’s about honesty and forgiveness and getting past people’s defenses to know the real person inside. It’s a book about friendship and patience and letting go of bad experiences and forgiving oneself.
“The cicadas are everywhere. They came back to Olena two days ago, after seventeen years of hiding in the ground and waiting. Waiting to climb into the sunlight. Waiting to climb the bushes and trees. Waiting to sing.
They waited so long. Then, thousands of them crawled out of the ground and up into the trees and bushes in just one night. Their song sounds like electricity buzzing on a power line, getting higher and higher and louder and louder until the air nearly explodes from the noise.”
I’m going to give this book to Brown Bear Daughter to see what she thinks of it. As far as I’m concerned it’s a triumph.
Andrea Beaty blogs at Three Silly Chicks where she and two other authors of children’s books review funny children’s books.
Other reviews of Cicada Summer:
Stacy at Welcome to my Tweendom says “Beaty has captured the sultry feel of summer as well as the world of children that seems so insular next to that of the adults in their lives.”
Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: “Beaty expertly paces this reveal throughout the narrative in such a way that is hardly intrusive (which could have easily happened in the hands of a clumsier author) and in such a way that builds tension and makes the novel a whopper of a page-turner.”
Jen Robinson’s Book Page: “I’m just going to go ahead and say it. This book has that Newbery award feel to me. Deep characters, beautiful writing with pockets of humor, and a touching story.”
Cicada Summer has already (on the first day) been nominated for a Cybil Award in the Middle Grade Fiction category. Nominate your favorite children’s and YA books of 2008 in nine categories at the Cybils blog.