At a time where diversity and inclusivity are being promoted across all facets of life; in literature, especially main characters within fictional realms, many authors have often failed to meet the mark. “Say What You Will,” a Young Adult novel by Cammie McGovern, defies the mold in more ways than one. The novel offers a refreshing, nuanced perspective on the genre that features two main characters learning to cope with their mental and physical disabilities. It contains a myriad of complex twists and turns that mirror real young adults finding their way in the world in spite of their challenges. It is equally compelling and eye-opening as it is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Born with Cerebral Palsy, Amy has more challenges than she can care to count. She can’t walk without a walker, talk clearly without typing words into her communication device or fully control her facial expressions. And while she hasn’t exactly lived a life of seclusion, she’s yearned to feel what it’s like to be included; to have friends as her peers, because parents and teachers don’t count. At the beginning of her senior year in a last attempt to befriend her classmates before she heads off to college, she decides to solicit the help of student aides.
Plagued by both his curiosity for Amy and his obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matthew signs up to be one of Amy’s student aides. Guilty of neurotic consumption, Matthew is desperate for someone to help him get out of his own head. Funny enough, it is Amy who ends up helping him the most with his mental and emotional limitations.
As they continue to spend time together, their friendship blossoms into something that neither of them were prepared for. While Amy leads into her growing infatuation towards him, Matthew runs away from his emotions; fearful of hurting her, both emotionally and physically, and wrecking the truest friendship he has ever known. Yet as the novel unravels, both of them continue to increase their connection, due to their innate emotional reliance on each other as they navigate the beginning of adulthood.
While the relationship progression between Amy and Matthew is a concentric theme, contrary to most young adult novels, it does not consist of only that. At the heart of the novel are the extremely accurate portrayals of OCD and Cerebral Palsy. On a personal note, as someone who has a disability, the storyline immediately caught my eye, because many of Amy’s struggles are similar to my own and it is rare and heartwarming to relate so much to a protagonist. Representation is key for everyone within a minority to have, therefore, a novel in which the main character’s limitations play off of each other’s strengths is one to take note of.
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