Review: Words We Don’t Say

This was an advanced reader copy for the October 2018 publication. There are minor spoilers ahead.

Title: Words We Don’t Say

Author: K.J. Reilly

Stars: ★★★★★

All the bad gets interest, but good compounds too, and Reilly’s point, throughout this whole book, is that we have the ability to work toward ensuring the compounding of the good outpaces the bad.

Reilly’s main character, Joel, struggles with his friend’s death, love for a girl he thinks is out of his league, and a complex desire to help the homeless people who he serves food to at his local soup kitchen.

Why is that desire complex? Partly because the issues are complex – veterans with PTSD, people who ‘lost the cosmic luck lottery,’ and a town doing just the minimum. It’s a familiar tale we see throughout the United States (and other countries as well), which makes it easy to become discouraged.

Joel also struggles with faith – in God, in humanity, in himself. As someone who grew up Catholic but hasn’t had a single day since I was maybe six where I could solidly say I 100% believed in big G God or Heaven or Hell or even an afterlife / grand cosmic plan, this resonated with me. There’s so much bad in the world, and it’s very easy to let it outshine the good. Some use this reality to claim proof that there has to be a God because without a big G God, the reality of who we are as a species and what the universe is as a whole becomes unbearable. As someone with a MSc and the bulk of a doctorate under my belt, I’ve always thought the unbearableness made it believable – the lack of anything else, any plan, any divine power.

However, helplessness doesn’t make the world better. Sulking about God or no god won’t feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, or heal the wounded. It’s just another wall we build around ourselves, and in doing so, we harm ourselves and the world even more.

As Joel reaches out to a new veteran, Rooster, Joel finds Benj – the weird new kid at school – reaching out toward him. Both relationships strain Joel, but as he makes breakthroughs on either side, we see him healing, and his relationship with his crush, Eli, becomes more complicated. He adores her, and she reached out after his best friend, Andy died, but her liking him as more seems impossible to him. However, a collection of ‘big bad’ compounding hits, and it’s only in hindsight – thanks Benj – that we see sometimes bad leads to good. Sometimes things get better, and we’re more in control of then we like to give ourselves credit for being.

An amazing coming of age story that follows this year’s trend of friend deaths and the fallout of death in general (not that this is a new trend, see: Sense and Sensibility). Poignant with characters multidimensional enough to annoy and delight.

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If this book inspires you to help out, here’s the link to the Feeding America local food bank search. If you have a charity you think I should add, just comment, and I’ll highlight them in a list below.


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