The last place Jimmy wants to be is at his cousin Patrick’s wake. Add in the fact he’s wearing last year’s outgrown dress pants and he’s about as uncomfortable as possible. That is until things get worse when his mother informs him he’ll be making a speech at Patrick’s funeral. Why him? And what can he say about Patrick, the kid who seemed to ruin everything?
Author Adam Schmitt deserves tremendous credit for tapping into such a natural voice of a thirteen-year-old boy. Jimmy is quirky, complicated, and completely believable. In many cases, I was reminded of myself at that age, which was heightened by the first-person prose. It’s impossible not to feel close to Jimmy, and his struggle of just being able to find the right words is both compelling and touching.
Of course, Patrick lurks over the action right from the opening pages. As Jimmy considers his speech, each chapter has a vignette featuring Patrick. At the beginning, he’s rambunctious and destructive and these scenes would raise the blood pressure of even the most patient person. However, Schmitt shows some pretty remarkable skill in the structure of this book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this book is a beautiful blend of pace and progression.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the last couple of chapters had me in tears.
Schmitt does not shy away from some seriously harsh realities, particularly with family relationships. We don’t get to pick our families that can lead to conflicting personalities, even when (or perhaps because) there are often abundant similarities. Jimmy clashes with Patrick, his parents, and the chaos around them. In these moments, the frustration is palpable. But ultimately, it’s also family that provides him the necessary understanding.
In kidlit, there’s often a discussion of quieter novels and their place in the canon. Speechless straddles that line. Jimmy is a deeply funny narrator navigating a world filled with uproar. However, it’s also deeply introspective with incredible subtlety as it deals with the serious concepts of death and reflection. The result is a powerfully profound debut novel with heart.
Author: Adam P. Schmitt
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: November 06, 2018
Classification: Middle Grade
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.