There Are No Words
Mary Calhoun Brown
Lucky Press (2010)
Reviewed by Maggie Desmond-O’Brien (age 14 ) for Reader Views (12/09)
The world of twelve-year-old Jaxon MacKenzie is full of words, though she can’t speak. Living a quiet, loving life with the grandparents she adores, she can almost forget the world outside: A world where no one seems to understand her, not even her own mother. She spends her days reading, and staring at a painting on the parlor wall. One day, when she discovers a faded newspaper clipping documenting a horrific train wreck that claimed her grandfather’s best friend’s life, Jaxon is whisked through the painting and into the world of 1918, just before the wreck. Able to speak for the first time, Jaxon realizes that she has been given one chance to save a friend from one of the most terrible disasters in American history.
Let’s get the bad over with first: It was predictable, the prose was over-the-top, the dialogue forced, the story more telling than showing. Jaxon made a slightly self-righteous protagonist, and the rest of the characters seemed stereotyped and preachy. There’s no doubting that this book sets out to tell a message about autism, and whether that message is accomplished will depend upon the reader.
So now, for the good: First of all, Jaxon’s world is engaging from page one, the author’s simple, quiet style lending itself well to such a gentle, thoughtful read. Lines like “Grandma doesn’t care if I put my feet on the old couch. She doesn’t even mind if I leave my shoes on in the house. This is how I know she loves me” should feel corny and forced, but somehow they don’t; only like an interpretation of love by a misunderstood twelve-year-old, and a frankly more honest one than you can find in most fiction.
Secondly, though it’s not that hard to guess how the book will end and it’s sadly lacking in suspense, the emotion in this novel more than makes up for it. Love and tolerance are certainly abundant, but unlike most teen books in this niche it is balanced with sorrow, anger and prejudice in real-life doses, which rescues it from sentimentality and gives it a whole new dimension of excellence.
All in all, it wasn’t my favorite. But it doesn’t seem meant to be that kind of book. Rather, “There Are No Words,” by Mary Calhoun Brown, is a heartwarming tale of trials and triumph, judgment and acceptance; one that challenged my beliefs and brightened my day. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s worth far more recognition than it will probably ge