The Things We Couldn't Say

The Things We Couldn't Say
Age Range
Release Date
September 21, 2021
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From one of the brightest and most acclaimed new lights in YA fiction, a fantastic new novel about a bi Black boy finding first love . . . and facing the return of the mother who abandoned his preacher family when he was nine.
There's always been a hole in Gio's life. Not because he's into both guys and girls. Not because his father has some drinking issues. Not because his friends are always bringing him their drama. No, the hole in Gio's life takes the shape of his birth mom, who left Gio, his brother, and his father when Gio was nine years old. For eight years, he never heard a word from her . . . and now, just as he's started to get his life together, she's back.

It's hard for Gio to know what to do. Can he forgive her like she wants to be forgiven? Or should he tell her she lost her chance to be in his life? Complicating things further, Gio's started to hang out with David, a new guy on the basketball team. Are they friends? More than friends? At first, Gio's not sure . . . especially because he's not sure what he wants from anyone right now.

There are no easy answers to love -- whether it's family love or friend love or romantic love. In Things We Couldn't Say, Jay Coles, acclaimed author of Tyler Johnson Was Here, shows us a guy trying to navigate love in all its ambiguity -- hoping at the other end he'll be able to figure out who is and who he should be.

Editor review

1 review
heartfelt coming-of-age read
Overall rating
Writing Style
THINGS WE COULDN'T SAY is a powerful read about family and being true to yourself. Giovanni (Gio) lives with his preacher and alcoholic father, caring stepmother, and younger brother, Theo. A major, life-changing moment in his life was when his birth mother left him and his brother with their hurtful father when he was 9 and Theo was 4. Although his father has remarried and he has good friends to help him through life, Gio still feels the hole left behind by his mother, who abandoned them without explanation and without seeming to look back.

Then, one day, he receives an email from her that she is back in town and wants to see him. Gio is a whole pile of emotions. And then he almost gets run over by a motorcyclist, a new white kid at school, David, who has moved in across the street. It seems like chaos is descending through all the walls he has built. What Gio knows to be true and what his father has condemned is that he is bi, an identity that feels difficult to claim and to embrace. As he gets to know David, he finds someone who is still learning about the racism which Gio frequently experiences and learning how to be an ally - but who is undeniably special to him.

While Gio tries to understand his mother, her decisions, and how to bring himself to the other side, he is also learning about how to be fully himself, despite the prejudice against Black and LGBT people.

This is a book with some really genuine, heartfelt, and important themes, including those of racism, problematic literature and the way it is taught, family (born and found), LGBT identity, and friendship. As a result, Gio's story is a really powerful one. Gio and Theo were particularly compelling characters, and it was easy to enter their lives and quickly learn to care for them. Their brotherly bond was really beautiful. I also appreciated the strong friendships/found family Gio has with Ayesha and Olly. The romance was also really beautiful, and it was great to see Gio find a way to be himself and love who he loves, even despite the hate given from family and others. The importance of support, love, and being there is a theme that stands out throughout the story.

A heartfelt coming-of-age novel, THINGS WE COULDN'T SAY is a powerful read about prejudice, family, and embracing your identity. Highly recommend picking this one up!
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