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The Weight of Silence

August 29, 2009

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
published by Mira 2009

Seven-year-old Calli hasn’t spoken since she was four years old, when a traumatic incident robbed her of her voice. She has been diagnosed with selective mutism. She communicates intuitively, without speech, with her best friend Petra, who often speaks for her. No one — including her teachers, her devoted mom, Antonia, and Griffith, her angry alcoholic father, can entice her to speak. Only her beloved older brother, Ben, and a gifted school counselor seem to understand that her silence is not a choice, and that coaxing and bribery won’t help. Fourteen-year-old Ben, who seems preternaturally mature and brave, protects his little sister — hands down, he’s my favorite character.

One morning, both Calli and Petra disappear. In alternating scenes, we watch Calli go through a grueling ordeal in the wide Iowa forest that has always been her refuge, as we watch the investigation unfold. Throughout the day, we also come to intimately know each of the characters. As the girls’ parents struggle with their fear and guilt over their missing children, other memories unravel, some wonderful and some charged with regret and shame.

The Weight of Silence was a suspenseful story, full of complex characters. It moved fluidly among various points of view, adding richness and complexity without losing the silky flow of the story.

Folks, I couldn’t put this one down. The suspense hooked me in, but what held me were characters I cared deeply about and themes that — for me — cut painfully close. It was a story about parental love, regrets in marriage and parenthood, and the agony of feeling we’ve failed those we love most. It was also about love, forgiveness and hope.

Another thing I enjoyed about the book was the carefully observed nature scenes. I could see, hear, and feel the life in the woods — which seemed to have a faintly magical quality. The author illuminated those corners of childhood which include picnics in trees, marveling over a fawn wandering in the forest, and cicada shells preserved in treasure boxes.

My only quibble was that I was disappointed in the ending. The resolution seemed contrived and predictable to me. However, I recommend this book to fiction lovers, particularly those who, like me, are suckers for family dramas. I will warn you that a child is physically and sexually assaulted, though there is nothing explicit.

This novel has been on tour in the blog realm, so die-hard book blog readers have probably been seeing it pop up again and again. Here are some other reviews:

Also check out this interview with the author at Word Lily


One Comment leave one →
  1. April 24, 2010 3:45 pm

    I read this book awhile back and had similar thoughts to you. The ending was a little bit too easy, but the way the story was written was excellent. I kept thinking that I had figured something out just to find out that I had it all wrong.

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