Let me start this book review by saying I was very impressed with this Middle Grade/YA novel! The author took on some weighty topics with poise and compassion and left me with a meaningful takeaway. This was not a book to read once and forget. I think this book would be a great pick for youth groups wanting to have a book club, because there was so much depth packed into Allyson Kennedy’s Speak Your Mind.
Now onto the details: The protagonist, Victoria, is a thirteen-year-old struggling to survive middle-school. Victoria is the girl who is stuck in everybody’s minds as forever being a shy loner (and let’s be frank – a total weirdo). She doesn’t talk to people at school, and furthermore, she almost can’t talk to people. Shy is how everyone immediately pegs Victoria, especially since her BFF moved away last year.
Though Victoria’s perceptions of middle school are overall negative, this is what made me worry about her as a character, and therefore made me want to keep reading. Speak Your Mind follows Victoria as she journeys from a painfully-shy teenager to having enough confidence to be honest. This becomes increasingly crucial for Victoria when not only other students verbally bully her, but even Ms. Markovich, who at first seems like an impossible-to-please-but-not-particularly-dangerous teacher, preys upon Victoria. As the plot thickens, Ms. Markovich is a very real threat to Victoria, and it will take all the faith in God that Victoria has to speak up and be heard.
I was impressed by how the author handled the sensitive issue of being shy and when shyness may actually be social anxiety disorder. Kennedy did an excellent job bringing out Victoria’s concerns of already feeling like a weirdo, and how that escalated when she was told she had a disorder. Aiden, who eventually becomes her best friend, reminds her that God made her fearfully and wonderfully (not weird), and that He will help her overcome her anxiety so that she can enjoy life and worry less.
I loved the emphasis on family in this book. Victoria’s family eats, talks, and prays together, and each member is involved with the family. By placing a few scenes within youth group or church, Kennedy was able to seamlessly weave in meaningful messages that show how the Bible is applicable in teens’ lives today. Additionally, Kennedy’s animated language and characters (from the stereotypical snotty ‘mean girl’ to the odd ball who thinks he might be an alien) bring feeling and life to the story.
A final impression the book had with me was its strong character arc. I loved watching Victoria blossom from a downtrodden loner into a content, assertive teenager with friends (real friends, by the way).
I would recommend this story for preteen and teenage girls. Students who are not personally in a downtrodden, shy situation will learn about having compassion on people who lack confidence (thank you, Aiden!). Those who do battle social anxiety will gain a new level of confidence from Victoria’s character.
There was a teeny bit of romance in the book, and even though that makes me nervous for young audiences already battling hormone surges, I also realize that it’s realistic and I appreciate that Kennedy kept it clean. Also, there was mention of an extramarital affair between two adults in the book (which was clearly condemned), but again, living in this world that we do, most teens are aware that we may encounter situations like this, and I liked how Kennedy tackled the tricky topic.
I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.