Words We Don't Say

288p. Disney-Hyperion. Oct. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781368016339.
Gr 8 Up—While completing a semester-long community service project at a local soup kitchen, Joel encounters a variety of homeless clients, including a homeless veteran struggling with PTSD, whose interactions with Joel lead to some potentially devastating consequences. To help him deal with his depression, Joel's guidance counselor has suggested that he keep a journal; instead, he composes hundreds of unsent text messages to his crush, Eli; best friend Andy; and the school principal. Many characters deal with profound grief and devastating loss, which is explored honestly and unflinchingly. All of the teen characters have distinct and authentic voices. Joel's relationship with his family, especially his father, is complicated, but believable and even heartwarming at times. A teacher's attitude about "trigger warnings" and "safe spaces" could be a springboard for further discussion. Contemporary issues such as PTSD, homeless veterans, and banned books are woven throughout, but never in an overly obvious or preachy manner. Although the grief felt by various characters will never fully diminish, there is growth and hope for better days at the end.
VERDICT Recommended for readers who enjoy thoughtful realistic novels that cover difficult topics.

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