*This review will contain spoilers!*
'It's so hard, when you fall for someone - the temptation is to look back on the past and rewrite things so they seem more significant. There's a part of me going: Did I know? Did I know the first time we met that you would change everything? That you would change me? But I didn't. I'm sure I didn't.'
'These are the things that you need to know:
- I hear voices.
- I miss you.
- I wish I could take back what I did to you.
- What they said in the news, what they said I did. It's not true. You don't have to worry about that.
- I'm going to write it all down, all about Paris and why I broke your heart, and then I'm going to e-mail it to you. It will take you, I don't know, a couple of days to read. So I will be waiting for you at 5:00pm Friday by the windmill hole of Pirate Golf on Pier One, where we played that one time.'
I also love mysteries, particularly when they're set up so early in the story. I had so many questions based off of this first page, so it was almost impossible to put the book down.
In the town of Oakwood, there's a serial killer on the loose. The Houdini Killer has taken fourteen victims in the past couple of years, and the police are nowhere closer to finding the culprit who - in a Jack the Ripper-esque killing spree - has been taking and presumably killing sex workers (prostitutes, strippers, etc.).
There are no solid clues, and no bodies have ever been found, until our protagonist - seventeen-year-old Cassie Di Matteo - stumbles across a foot on the beach.
Yep, a foot.
This discovery causes a psychological break within Cassie, who has had a lot to deal with. Her mother was brutally murdered in front of her, one of her friends got stabbed in the eye at her birthday party... You could say it hasn't been the easiest of lives. All of these events, combined with the random foot on the beach, cause Cassie to start hearing voices.
Well, not voices. One voice. The voice of a middle-aged New Jersey woman, who Cassie is convinced must be one of the Houdini Killer's victims.
People notice the shift in Cassie very quickly, and it doesn't take long before she's carted off to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with schizophrenia and prescribed medication to take to stop the voice. It's at this hospital that she meets Paris, who is also struggling with her mental health, and they become fast friends.
Despite the danger in the career, Paris is a stripper. She runs a successful business using Instagram, and her roommate Julie takes care of her, driving her to all of her events and waiting outside to take her straight home afterwards. Cassie worries about Paris, but she's much more concerned about the voice in her head... Oh, and the cute boy living in the apartment building above her garage.
I'm a big fan of epistolary novels, but I normally favour them in the style of 'The Color Purple' and 'How Many Letters Are In Goodbye?': I like the format of the letters, because they give the story in short, snappy bursts, they're date-stamped so you know exactly how much time is passing, and they're directed towards someone.
This is why I couldn't give 'Whisper To Me' a five star rating. Imagining this as an e-mail just isn't possible, because of the strange formatting on some of the pages: a mere five or six lines, compared to the stream of consciousness rambling that you encounter the next page over. No one would write an email that long, and to have a book that's over 500 pages centering around the premise that a boy needs to read it before a specified date and time... It just doesn't seem feasible. This is cemented by the story being split into 'The Part Before' and 'The Part After'... while it helps to break up the story for the reader, it wouldn't make sense to have a segue like that in a letter.
A lot could have been edited out without losing the integrity of the story. The foreshadowing is over-the-top in its relentlessness, and because Cassie is supposed to be writing to someone who experienced everything with her, the intricate detailing and dropping of clues doesn't make sense. There's a heck of a lot of repetition, a lot of asides jotted throughout the story to re-establish the fact that it's an email and not a straight up story, and not all of them seem necessary.
It also would have been easier if the boy was given a name. I know it adds to the mystery, but it's awkward to constantly have a character referred to as 'him' and 'that boy'. Names develop characters, make them more realistic, so choosing to have a nameless love interest is confusing to me.
However, it is a beautiful book. I would genuinely believe it was written by a teenage girl, so the fact that Nick Lake is most definitely an adult male... It's impressive. I could see myself in this book, and not many male authors really get the female teenage experience without being patronizing or condescending. Yes, Cassie is a little boy-obsessed, but it's almost understandable: with everything else she's dealing with, the romance in her life is the easiest thing to attempt to deal with because it's less significant and life-shifting. Even though she's boy-obsessed, she's still a super strong character. Cassie is a feminist, unashamed to call her dad out when he's using slut-shaming to justify the Houdini Killer's actions. She's also unashamed about her love for reading (this might have made me a bit biased in my love for her!).
I was glad that the relationship between Cassie and the boy wasn't insta-love - still too much of that about - and it developed nice and slowly, which was realistic. They never officially got together, which Cassie references in her e-mail ('A TEENAGE GIRL IS SITTING ON THE BED THAT USED TO BELONG TO HER... HER WHAT, ACTUALLY? BOYFRIEND? FRIEND?') and I love the fact that she's going to all of this effort to win back a guy who wasn't actually hers in the first place.
It shows the fluid nature of teenage relationships, but it also pissed me off a little bit - just because they'd kissed a few times, he got extremely angry at her when she kissed someone else, didn't let her explain and essentially kicked her out of his life for good? That doesn't make much sense. Boys controlling girls isn't sexy.
I have to say it: I hated the ending. I wasn't expecting a clean wrap-up, because that wouldn't have been loyal to the way that the story was being told. We knew the e-mail was being sent before Friday at 5pm, so we were never going to know if they got back together and managed to resolve their differences. But I did expect at least one of the subplots to be resolved.
Who is the Houdini Killer? We still don't know. What happened to Paris? Nope, no answer to that either. What was 4. in her original list referring to? I know we're supposed to read between the lines and assume that 'they' said Cassie tried to kill herself by nearly drowning, but it's not explicitly stated... It all feels a bit too ambiguous, and when that's one of the first narratives established in the novel I think it deserved more.
I mean, there's a really nice bit about how you need to find forgiveness in yourself, and you need to live even when people you love are gone... But it felt preachy, particularly because it was told to Cassie by the voice she was hearing. If she'd come across the realisation by herself, it would have been a revelation and a turning point for her character - instead the voice essentially becomes God and forgives her all her trespasses.
Despite the fact that 'Whisper To Me' had a few flaws, I really enjoyed it.
That's the problem with the length of the book: if it had been 400 pages or less there would have been a lot less room for error, and it would have been perfect. Because it was almost 550 pages there seemed to be too much going on (and not all of it was successfully resolved or dealt with) and there were more errors (Cassie mentioning that she doesn't know how old he is early in the letter, then saying he was 18 later; the constant use of **** to block out swear words, with the occasional one slipping through without mention).
However, it's a great look at the ways that loss effects people, both emotionally and psychologically. I haven't experienced schizophrenia in YA before (I've heard of books that tackle it, but I haven't read them myself) but I loved the way Nick represented alternative therapies rather than just pushing the medication solution.
It definitely feels as though this book deserves a sequel, or at least a companion novel. The setting is beautiful, the characters are realistic, and I didn't want to leave this world where I had to. Leaving the mystery of Paris's disappearance and the identity of the Houdini Killer unresolved were frustrating choices, but added to the authenticity - it's a sad case of life that often people aren't found and killers do get away with their crimes. It would be nice to go back and get answers, though, because Nick has set the groundwork for what could be a brilliant crime-thriller.
And I'll admit it, I really want to know how the boy responded to Cassie's letter. I'm guessing he'll forgive her - he seemed to like her quite a lot, and she did go to a lot of effort to apologise to him! - but because of the short amount of time that they knew each other, and the lack of commitment in their relationship, it would have been interesting to see if he would have cut all ties.
I guess we'll never know...