Chelsea starts off as a completely shallow and unlikable character. Striving to please her best friend Kristen - who also happens to be the most popular girl at school - she was willing to do or say whatever it took to keep their relationship strong. So when the opportunity came to dish out the juiciest gossip she had ever had - that she had walked in on Noah making out with another guy! - Chelsea held nothing back. But when Noah ends up in the hospital fighting for his life, Chelsea's conscience kicks in and she tells her parents (and the police) how Kristen's boyfriend, Warren, and his best friend Joel had gone after Noah to "teach him a lesson." It's at this moment that Chelsea realizes how much damage her mouth has caused, and pledges a vow of silence - and her journey of self-discovery truly begins.
Chelsea is a hilarious narrator. I found myself highlighting a LOT of her inner dialogue, as it had me laughing out loud.
"Also, tonight he reeks too much of beer and cloying cologne. This is a disappointment because I always assumed that a perfect creature such as Brendon would smell of spring rain and mountain bresses and other heavenly aromas."
"Therapy is my mother's solution to everything. I'm sure she thinks there'd be peace in the Middle East if every country were forced to sit down on a stiff leather couch with a box of Kleenex and talk about their feeeeelings."
But a lot of her funny moments were quickly sobered, as she began berating herself for her past behaviour - for following Kristen like a sheep, letting her decide what to wear and who to talk to, and for treating other people like crap in order to maintain Kristen's affection.
"It's like what those cheesy action-movie heros always say before they finish taking out the bad guys: I started this, and I'm going to finish it. Except even in the movie of my own life, I've never been the heroine. I've never been Action Girl. I've only ever been Kristen's supporting character."
Her character growth in Speechless, though subtle, was significant, and I loved watching her realize that she could have a life of her own, without Kristen or her influence. Her friendships with Asha and Sam had me nervous for the longest time, as I worried she would hurt them if Kristen managed to forgive her. I shouldn't have been so worried though, as like I said, her character growth was genuine. It took her a while to realize what a horrible human being she had been, and how what she had done to please Kristen had a ripple effect in causing harm to others.
"And I thought it was okay as long as I didn't actively participate, that it was enough for me to secrely believe in my heart of hearts that there was absolutely nothing wrong with being gay even if I never dared say it out loud."
But with her growing realization came understanding and then a sincere desire to change, to become a better person. It was Harrington's almost painfully realistic portrayal of Chelsea's struggle for self-discovery which truly made Speechless beautiful.
Harrington also handled the supporting characters with ease and grace. Flawed and infused with depth, I fell for each character in a different way. I adored Asha's genuineness and her constant bubblyness and Sam's earnest goodness radiated whenever he was protecting those he cares about. Even Chelsea became someone I admired, as she started to care less about what other people thought of her and more about how to be the kind of person who deserved the love shown to her by her new friends.
" walk to my car without looking back, and as I drive away, I'm hit with a sudden wave of sadness. But it's a distant kind of sad - like when you look at your Barbies and realize you don't want to play with them anymore, because you're growing up and you've moved on, and in your heart you know it's time to make room for other things."
The romance was subtle and unassuming, something I enjoyed as it didn't take away from the rest of Speechless' plot. I did slightly tire of the teenage-y speak, like, you know. But that same manner of speaking is what added to Chelsea's realism as a young adult. I would also have liked to see things a little less tidy at the end, but I guess there has to be times where someone gets their happily ever after!
Beautifully moving with a great message about love and the consequences of intolerance, Speechless is well worth a read. As another reviewer pointed out, "this novel isn't mindblowing, it isn't earth-shattering, it didn't elevate my intellectual and spiritual being in any way. But, it did make me flip the last page with a small sigh..."