Book Review – Whisper to Me by Nick Lake

Book Review – Whisper to Me by Nick Lake
Book Review – Whisper to Me by Nick LakeWhisper to Me by Nick Lake
Publication date: May 3, 2016
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult, Romance
544 pages
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher

A remarkable story of strange beauty and self-discovery from Printz Award winner Nick Lake.

Cassie is writing a letter to the boy whose heart she broke. She’s trying to explain why. Why she pushed him away. Why her father got so angry when he saw them together. Why she disappears some nights. Why she won’t let herself remember what happened that long-ago night on the boardwalk. Why she fell apart so completely.

Desperate for his forgiveness, she’s telling the whole story of the summer she nearly lost herself. She’s hoping he’ll understand as well as she now does how love—love for your family, love for that person who makes your heart beat faster, and love for yourself—can save you after all.

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Book Review:

It’s weird. I’m writing this to you, and you haven’t walked into my life yet. But I guess you already know when you first saw me.
It’s like a wood in ancient Greece, a leafy glade. I’m here, and the voice is here—the echo—and we’re just waiting for you, for the real action to start.
Which is soon.
Things are going to go fast from here.
Are you ready?

Whisper to Me is one of those special books that will stay with you long after you put it down. Nick Lake paints a vivid picture of grief and a teen girl’s fall into the depths of mental illness. From the first page, Lake captured my attention with Cassie’s distinct voice and thrilled me with the story’s unique blend of mystery, thriller, and first love.

The catalyst to Cassie’s mental breakdown was a grotesque discovery on the beach in her hometown of Oakwood, New Jersey. Perhaps it was a totem from the Houdini Serial Killer who’s on the loose. What she finds sends her mind into a frenzy, leaving her with a frightening voice reverberating in her head. After a stint in the psychiatric hospital, she’s left in a mental fog due to her medications. Back home, new summer tenants move into the apartment above her father’s garage—workers at the Boardwalk for the summer. Her father is a veteran and has his own mental demons to fight with. Cassie finds herself in explicably drawn to one of the boys—referred to in the book as “you”.

Whisper to Me is an apology letter and a plea for forgiveness from a girl to the boy whose heart she single-handedly crushed. It’s her accounting and explanation of events that led to their break-up. The way this book is written is captivating and draws you in. Written in second-person narrative, you feel an immediate connection to Cassie and get the same sense of longing for a second chance.

I loved Cassie from page one. Her voice is witty and sharp, but there is an undercurrent of fragility seeping through. I loved all of her anecdotal musings of Greek mythology and interjections. It was very conversational, almost like she was there telling you what happened in her own special way.

“Okay, I’ve been sitting here at Dad’s PC in the study trying to think of how to describe you, the way you moved then, the way you always move. And I think I have it, finally. It’s . . .

So, you have to start by thinking of the word “fitness.” I mean, thinking of what it really means. We use it all the time—that person is fit, that person isn’t fit, he’s doing fitness training, whatever. But think about the root word. Fit. To fit. To be fit or apt for a purpose.

That’s you. You’re fit, yeah, in the obvious sense that you’re healthy and have a slow resting heart rate, and all that stuff. From all the swimming. But you also fit, your movements fit with the world, you interlock elegantly with it.

You fit into the world like a key in a lock.”

This book is a character study, focusing on human connection and self-acceptance. A candid account of how grief can wreak havoc on one’s mind and how it can break down one’s ability to connect to others and even to yourself. Each character was multi-faceted and layered, even if they played a small role. I really loved “You” and his unwitting desire to help the girl with a thousand secrets. He was pure and good and had his own set of problems.

What made this book stand out among all other books that speak on mental illness is just how respectful Nick Lake deals with the subject. He doesn’t try to romanticize it or let the love story side of things put a band aid or fix Cassie’s problems. The portrayal of Cassie’s unraveling is honest and real. Even though I’ve never gone through anything like that, the careful and intentional way Lake handled the subject matter made me feel Cassie’s struggles deeply.

There’s a convention: If someone has cancer, they’re “brave” and “fighting.” If someone is having problems with their mind, that person is only ever “struggling.” This is, on one level, stupid and offensive. I mean, the people who die of cancer—what, they didn’t fight hard enough? They weren’t brave enough?

But on another level, when it comes to the mind breaking down, it’s not wrong that you struggle. I struggled. Everything was hard. Getting up. Getting dressed. Going to school.

The ending of this book gave me chills and made me tear up. You know when you finish a good book and you just kind of stare for a little bit and then you go back and read the ending again? Yeah, that happened here and it was awesome.

This book won’t be for every person. I say this, not as a deterrent but as a little caveat before you read. People who tend to gravitate more plot-driven books may not enjoy this one as much as I did. But the focus here is on the characters, more than anything else.

Spoiler - Read With Caution

The ending itself is very open-ended. You don’t get a resolution or to see the boy’s response. I would have liked to have seen what happens, but I also sort of like that it was left to our interpretation. I’d like to believe that he would have understood. He seemed like the kind of good guy that would without a doubt understand Cassie’s reasoning, given her fragile mental state.


* I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Whisper to Me by Nick Lake

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