Monday 16 January 2017

#DisabilityDiaries2017 | Review! - Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton

Unspeakable title image

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Title: Unspeakable
Unspeakable book cover
Author: Abbie Rushton

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ+ (M/F; F/F)

Amazon: UK - USA

A few starting notes:

If anyone with, or with first-hand experience of, selective mutism or OCD, has reviewed this book, please let me know - I'd love to leave a link to your review.

I'm not sure how I feel about this book.

There were parts of it I truly loved and parts which... I just wasn't comfortable with. There are a lot of problems with this book.

So prepare yourself nerdlets, we're gonna discuss some sh**.

(Seriously, if you need the loo or whatever, go now and come back, because once I've started I'm not stopping.)


Megan hasn't spoken in months. Because there are things people don't know - things about the day when everything changed, the day she stopped talking.

But then Jasmine started at school. Beautiful, bright, bubbly, Jasmine... and for the first time in a long while, Megan might just want to talk again.

Best bits:

I loved that Megan's problems aren't simple.

Too often, depictions of mental health problems are put down to textbook examples, and left there.

The truth is that everyone's problems affect them differently, and that sometimes conditions combine to have a joint effect on someone's life.

I also liked Jasmine - I've seen a lot of criticism of her character, but I liked her. Yes, she's pretty idealised. But she's also not perfect.

And, honestly, the hope that there are people like her in the world - people who will accept you as you are - is not a bad thing. If you're a queer teen, and/or a teen with mental health problems, that hope might just be a lifeline.

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I also thought the relationship between Megan and her mother was realistic and beautiful. They struggled a lot with how to relate to each other, but there's an amazing undercurrent of love between them.

And that part of Megan - written in bold, large, italics - which tells her she ruins everything, which she has to push past, push against, push through? Yes. I've been there. And it felt... real.

It's also exceptionally readable - the prose is skilled and involving throughout, and you really do want to know what happens.

There's just a lot of heart to this book, y'know? And that's great.

Not so great bits:

First things first, there's a lot of potentially distressing/difficult to deal with content, here:
  • grief
  • mental health problems
  • low self-esteem
  • anxiety
  • implied OCD
  • selective mutism
  • bullying
  • anonymous threats
  • guilt
  • violence
  • arson
  • animal cruelty/violence to animals
  • attempted suicide
  • homophobia
  • ableism
  • poverty
  • physical abuse from a parent
  • implied domestic abuse

There's also some swearing, drink-driving, and underage drinking (which you shouldn't do, in case you were wondering.)

I have problems with this book, nerdlets, both in terms of queer representation, and mental health representation.

Let's start with queer rep:

Megan, who is lesbian (although the word is never used, at least not as an identity rather than a slur, she has no attraction to men/boys,) goes on a date with a boy - Luke.

Now, it's entirely true that sometimes questioning lesbian teens go on dates with boys - BUT A NON-LESBIAN WOMAN WRITING THIS JUST FEELS FREAKING AWKWARD.

I don't know Abbie Rushton's orientation, but she mentions her male fiancée in the acknowledgements, so at the time of writing she didn't identify as lesbian.

The whole date felt a) forced and b) a gimmick - 'look! She's not attracted to him! Look at the lesbian!'

She also has Megan kiss Luke and enjoy it - again, if Rushton were lesbian and understood the issues at play here, then fine.

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As it is? I don't think she understands enough to be writing these things in. #SorryNotSorry.

That whole plot-point just feels unnecessary and awkward.

Oh, and there's a male character who only exists for the homophobic bullies to pick on. We're not even told if he's actually queer, and we learn nothing about him as a person. #JustNo.

Now for the mental health rep.

This is disappointing, because there is good mental health rep here, but there's also poor mental health rep:

  • Megan's implied OCD is never addressed - we don't know if this is something she had prior to the traumatic event or not, and it just peters out as the story goes on.

  • [Luke's] mental health problems are both skirted over, and scapegoated. Everything's fine because we shoved [him] in a psych ward! The other crazy person did it! Not the 'good' crazy person. *Sighs*

  • Her psychologist acts like a douche. I don't mean just pushes her to explore her problems. I mean he intentionally upsets her. And somehow acting that out of line is ok, and he's some kind of saint in comparison to her 'out of order' response. The message this sends is... troubling.

  • Love cures mental health problems. Ugh. So sick of this. Love is not all you need guys, sorry.

  • Selective mutism is rarely a result of traumatic events*, and certainly the way in which Megan's mutism descends at the event, fully formed, and stays more-or-less stable until Jasmine shows up...? I have a limited knowledge of mutism, but this seems reductive and unrealistic to me. Please correct me if I'm mistaken; like I said, my knowledge of this is limited.

  • Sometimes the impression is given that Megan could speak if she wasn't trying to hide what actually happened. This isn't clear-cut, but is definitely something to keep an eye on. 👀

two girls sat on a bench

*where it is the result of traumatic events, it's usually a symptom of PTSD. PTSD is never mentioned in the book, and if this was the author's intent, then I don't feel it was put over clearly enough.


Do I know how to feel about this book now? Nope.

Look, part of me was just really connected to a queer girl with mental health problems... please don't judge me for that.

And parts of this were good. But the representation fell down on more than one front.

That's fine if everyone's going into this with eyes wide open... but there are so many misconceptions about mental health and being queer out there already, that it could do more harm than good.

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  1. Seems very interesting! I love OCD books because I feel like I can relate to them, having some triggers myself. Great review :)

    1. Thanks :) It was interesting - but I was also quite concerned with the way some things were dealt with.

  2. Great review! I'm conflicted as to whether it made me want to read or avoid this book, but it seems very interesting, either way!

    1. Ha, I didn't know whether to recommend it or condemn it - it really is a 6-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other kind of book!

      Like I said, there were good things about it... there were also not-good things about it.

      I figured honesty was the best policy - cards on the table and let you guys decide! As long as your eyes are open to the problems, I've done my bit! :)

  3. I'm not sure how much I agree with the fact that the author being non-lesbian means she cannot write about that date? But then again, I haven't read the book myself, so I can't really pass judgment. But I don't think this is one for me. I'm not a fan of love curing everything either... it bothers me so much that many people see that as the answer.

    1. The date between Megan and Luke honestly felt very awkward, and like the author didn't understand what she was doing with that scene at all - if it had been done well, I would have said so, promise! I didn't mean that she can't write it - I just meant that perhaps she *shouldn't* since she *clearly* doesn't have the understanding necessary.

      I get what you mean - healthy and happy relationships can certainly be beneficial, but are not a cure. That trope gives the impression that mental health problems etc. are because you aren't in a relationship, and that's just totally over-simplifying.


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