Tess has always wanted to please her dad, so she’s tried so hard to fit in for his sake. When she reads six hundred and seventeen words of truth on his laptop, her world is turned upside down. Her family’s lied to her and she doesn’t know who she is any more. Face to face with her father’s lies, Tess chooses to stay silent, and not just with his secret. She chooses to stop speaking altogether.
Some of what Tess goes through is understandable. She’s just discovered her dad isn’t her biological father; the man she once idolises is now a stranger in her mind. She chooses silence as a form of rebellion. As the story progresses she starts to see his faults, the ones he probably always had but children don’t usually notice about her parents. But now Tess is determined to find her father, projecting her fantasy father figure onto a teacher.
They might not be able to hear them, but there are words, thousands of them, flurrying about beneath the surface like flakes in a snow globe, hurling themselves noiselessly against the glass.
I wish I knew the difference between selective and elective mutism before I decided to read this as Tess’s silence really started to grate on me. Elective mutism is no longer recognised by psychiatrists, however selective mutism is triggered by trauma and/or anxiety. Tess has just chosen not to speak and continues her protest even when she doubts herself.
It’s pretty frustrating at times knowing Tess isn’t going to stand up for herself or even just be polite. And it’s hard to feel sorry for her when it’s a conscious choice she’s made. In place of real dialogue, Tess has conversations in her head with Mr Goldfish, the fish shaped torch she bought when she was planning on running away. It’s not clear throughout whether Tess is actually hallucinating or if she’s aware she’s talking to an inanimate object.
That’s how bad things have got, like I’m envious of a tree where Jedi has definitely peed six thousand times at a conservative estimate. At least the tree knows where it stands. It has a sense of place. It’s fixed. Attached. And I am lost.
Tess never makes it to her appointment with a mental health specialist. I think it’s a bit vague on the subject of mental health overall; Tess is mostly portrayed as bringing it on herself but then there are little tells that suggest she’s not OK. She goes to Mr Goldfish for comfort, clicking his switch on and off repeatedly, a sign of anxiety. And that’s not even taking into account the talking torch…
There is one wonderful passage which really is more of a lesson that Jack learns; why is normal not good enough for people any more? We are living in a rat race to be the best at everything, to live glamourous, successful lives, when we could be happy with being safe, loved and comfortable.
Silence is Goldfish is published by Indigo, an imprint of Orion, and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.