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I Can't Tell You

I Can't Tell You

4.5 21
by Hillary Frank

After he opens his big mouth in a big fight with his best friend, Jake concludes that talking = trouble. He decides that communicating through writing is safer. Through notes scribbled on napkins and in notebooks, on upside-down calculators, and on walls with pudding-covered fingers, Jake explores new ways to express himself. But there are also the notes he never


After he opens his big mouth in a big fight with his best friend, Jake concludes that talking = trouble. He decides that communicating through writing is safer. Through notes scribbled on napkins and in notebooks, on upside-down calculators, and on walls with pudding-covered fingers, Jake explores new ways to express himself. But there are also the notes he never sends. To his flirty friend. Who is just a friend. But could be more than a friend. But isn’t—or is she? Hillary Frank’s inventive style envelops her readers in a new dimension of storytelling. Jake + Xandra = a story about what it means to be “just friends.” All without saying a word.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Ultimately, the novel's engaging jumble of correspondence amounts to a study of vulnerability, tentatively concluding that, when it comes to romance, playing it safe can be a risky approach.
Horn Book

The insight Jake gains from his self-imposed silve is satisfying, if not entirely profound. The insights readers will gain, however, are perhaps deeper, as Frank manages to convey a credible boy's-eye view on matters of the heart.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

All in all, the author creates a story both clever and heartfelt.
Publishers Weekly

The creafully constructed, seemingly accidental nature of Jake and Xandra's story combines the banal with the amateur pholisophizing of college, and invites interesting comparisons between sexual sophistication and real understanding of how to relate with others.
Kirkus Reviews

Frank's experiment is fascinating.
Booklist, ALA

Talking = Trouble. Jake makes this equation after he bumbles into a stupid argument with his best friend. He pursues his new vow of silence in napkin notes and notebook jottings. Through all his penciled meanderings, he wonders about adolescence, that painful in-between time of conflicting impulses and obligations. As one reader noted, I Can't Tell You doesn't deliver easy answers: "It's messy like life itself."
Publishers Weekly
After a falling out with his best friend and roommate, college student Jake concludes, "Don't want any words coming out of my mouth. All I do is mess them up," so he stops talking. The novel unfolds through notes he writes with his friends (which inspire copycats when he attracts attention from girls), journal entries (including messages to his twin sister, a "fetus ghost" who died in the womb) and unsent letters to his crush, Xandra, in which he reveals his true feelings for her. While the premise may be a bit of a stretch, the notes make for entertaining-and quick-reading. Frank (Better Than Running at Night) includes creative flourishes, such as drawings of the pudding Jake and Xandra splatter all over each other during one of their many play fights, the dorm setting is spot on, and Jake comes across as an authentic character. While the protagonist makes vulgar jokes, he's clever with words, and sensitive, too: Jake is hurt that his roommate Sean no longer wants to be his friend, and also by his parents' recent separation. Readers will easily understand why Jake's afraid to "risk everything" and confess how he feels to Xandra (even though his feelings are obvious, and readers may tire a bit of how long it takes to finally admit them). All in all, the author creates a story both clever and heartfelt. Ages 14-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
After he tells his best friend a secret that was best left unsaid, Jake, a college freshman, stops talking. Communication between Jake and others takes place in notebooks, on dry-erase boards, in email and on the back of napkins. At times, Jake is the only one writing and the reader must infer the other half of the conversation. Set in a college dorm and its surroundings, the story contains the staples of college life: drinking, sex, graphic language and insecurity concerning relationships. Elective mutism has become a common devise in young adult literature. Many, including E. L. Konigsburg in Silent to the Bone, have done it better, with a greater depth to the plot and characters that catch the readers' interest. Writing for an older audience, Frank is sure to touch a level of familiarity for many who are just entering college. But she falls short of achieving a novel that cannot be ignored. Even given the limitations of no spoken dialogue, there are many places where she could have given us more insight into Jake's character and made him someone the reader could identify with and feel sympathy toward. 2004, Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, Ages 16 up.
—Wendy M. Smith-D'Arezzo
Every time Jake opens his mouth, disaster strikes. After a major fallout with his college roommate and best friend, Jake concludes that perhaps speaking is not the best means of communication for him, and he resorts instead to writing notes, e-mails, and the like. His new silence at first is jarring to those around him. Gradually, though, Jake's friend Xandra catches on and joins in. Jake senses that his initial attraction to Xandra is deepening as the two continue to communicate in a more intimate form. Xandra seems willing to remain just a friend, and Jake, now truly speechless, does not know how to reveal his feelings. This remarkable novel mixes epistolary (letter and diary) format with some aspects of the graphic novel to tell a time-honored story of what happens when one person in a friendship wants to be more than a friend. From letters and e-mails, notes on white boards outside dorm rooms, upside-down calculator notes, doodles in the margins of notebooks, and scribbles on tablecloths and napkins, Jake and Xandra's relationship grows and changes. Jake's letters to Xandra, his mother, teachers, and a twin sister who died and was absorbed in utero expand the story beyond the confines of two friends trying to negotiate their changing relationship. High school students looking for a change of pace will appreciate the novel's format and the story itself. Especially attractive to those readers will be the glimpse into college dorm life, replete with co-ed dorms, keggers, and Greek life. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, 208p., $Trade pb. Ages 15 to18.
—Teri S. Lesesne
Jake decides that "talking + me = trouble" after he has a fight with his best friend and says something he wishes he hadn't, so he quits communicating verbally and takes to writing instead. This novel is related in notes, e-mails, journal entries, and even a few drawings as Jake tries a new way to relate. But what about his relationship with Xandra? Does he dare to speak his mind (or send a letter) about how he feels about her? Are they just friends, or something more? This tale about communication, crushes, and college life, by the author of Better Than Running at Night, is quirky and engaging, full of the puns Jake loves. The unusual format may appeal to readers too. Some realistically raunchy language makes this suitable for mature students only. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Houghton Mifflin, Graphia, 208p., and (pb). Ages 15 to adult.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up-During a huge fight with his best friend and college dorm-mate, Jake says something he cannot take back. As a result, he decides to communicate with everyone by writing-using dry-erase boards, Post-its, stained napkins, etc.-figuring he can better control what he has to say by not opening his mouth. Friends at first find him weird, but then play along and decide it's cool. His mother is sure he is cracking up, but his father goes along with him. All the while, he's obsessed with trying to find out if Xandra likes him or, you know, likes him. Each character Jake interacts with is represented by a different typeface and, in some cases, a "handwriting key" might be helpful to keep track of who's who. This unique writing style makes for attentive reading-and guesswork-as readers eavesdrop on Jake's otherwise typical social life and try to decipher what is actually going on. His inner struggles with feelings, friendships, and forgiveness are believable, but despite the highly personal nature of the story, the correspondence comes across as somewhat removed and impersonal as readers witness Jake's struggle to understand himself and, oh, yeah, maybe-or maybe not-to win the girl.-Roxanne Myers Spencer, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A romance in e-mail messages, passed notes, essays, and notice-board conversations. College freshman Jake stops speaking after an enormous fight with his roommate. He won't speak even to Xandra, whom he adores. Despite his sexual experience, he has never found romance with a female friend and his courtship of Xandra charms with its adolescent awkwardness. Jake and Xandra mark their friendship with written messages, friendly punches hard enough to leave bruises, catsup smeared in one another's hair, and terrible puns. But neither is able to speak-or write-of their growing romantic attachment. Frustrated by the stalled relationship, Xandra hooks up with a stranger. Jake's frustrating and silent semester comes to a satisfying conclusion that provides no easy answers or complete romantic closure and the method by which Jake regains speech is powerfully simple. The carefully constructed, seemingly accidental nature of Jake and Xandra's story combines the banal with the amateur philosophizing of college, and invites interesting comparisons between sexual sophistication and real understanding of how to relate with others. Compelling. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.49(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Hillary Frank is a freelance writer and illustrator. Her novel, Better Than Running at Night, was named a 2003 Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association and a Top 10 First Youth Novel by Booklist. Her radio stories have aired on a variety of public radio programs, including This American Life, Morning Edition, Marketplace, Studio 360, and Chicago Matters. 

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I Can't Tell You 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
While this book may have been confusing and difficult to read at times, I thought it was funny, extremely relatable, and entertaining. I enjoyed all of the characters and felt they were well-developed, even for a book with no real dialogue or description. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a funny, yet still emotional read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was one of the best books i have ever read. it has everything, and its just wonderful. i couldn't put it down. read it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first thing i noticed about this book, was the unique style of the narrative. For example, the story is told through notes, symbols, and drawings. This is not your average book. Jake decides talking gets him in too much trouble, so he stops and jots down everything instead. If you're looking for something different, fun, and eye catching this is the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I simply can't put in words how much this book spoke to me. I usually pick out a girl's book with a female protagonist and such, but this book is for any gender. It weaved through the struggles of Jake, his fight against the wrong words, and his relationship with Xandra. The ending, some may say, was terrible, but I disagree completely. It put the icing on the cake and I loved every bite.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book for the first time in the eight grade, picking it up because my it was the first thing that caught my eye when my mom told me to hurry up. I began reading it in the car and couldn't put it down. It's not like any other book you would normally find in the Youth section and anyone from that age period and up would easily relate. It's humorous and deep and it is written like normal teens act. I have honestly read this book over 12 times and each time I re-read it, I pick up more of The Funny.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hilary Frank's novel I can¿t tell you is by far two thumbs up. I have only read one other book that really stands out to me, Swear to Howdy. The novel I can't tell you really stood out to me because it¿s original. There's not another book that are written notes. The first chapter or two it takes warming up to the character and getting used to the style of writing. The subject is common for humans today. Friends get mad at friends, but Hilary Frank adds a special twist to the book. The main character Jake refuses to talk. He spends his time writing notes on Calculators, Recites, Paper, and tissues. Jake is in college, and him and Sean (his best friend) are/were roommates. Jake keeps trying to okay everything between Sean, but the more he talks to Sean the worse the situation gets. I can't tell you is recommended by me to teenagers between the ages of 13-college. It really does give you helpful advise, and a must read for schools with a lot of drama.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! i loved it so much that i even read the whole book at barnes and nobles! it was good but i hated the ending........it made me sad. i still reccomend it for others to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When you open this book, it will look totally strange and like someone has been doodling and writing notes...and that's because someone has! It is a very interesting way to go about writing and I think it helped make the book flow very quickly. The concept is great and is typical of college... read it and stick with it even though it is written in a strange fashion. It's great!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just bought this book on a whim. Originally, I had bought it for off time at school. But when I read it just to check it out, I was addicted. Couldn't put it down. It was funny, original, and painfully true.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have a hard time starting books. Especially ones that have a different style of writing. I started reading this book very confused, and skeptical. I didnt like the style it was written in, and I didin't follow the storyline. However after a while, I really could relate to how Jake felt about Xandra. But then, when she started dating 'Batman' I have to say, it pulled emotions out of me that I didn't know books could. I WAS Jake in the story, I felt what he was feeling when Xandra was one the phone with 'Batman'. But when Xandra started to turn into a serious girl, and she couldn't/wouldn't relate to Jake's puns anymore, I got angry, and even started to cry at some points. When I reached the last pages of the book, I was honestly waiting for a dramatic turn-around, but when it didn't happen. I was so dissapointed with how the story ended. I'd like to think that since we dont hear about Xandra for a while, that she got back together with Jake. But my mind knows better than that. I'd like to read more of Frank's works, but I'm very nervous about reading books that dissapoint me, because they usually get me into a wierd funk for a few days... but maybe that's my wonderful teenage mind working!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is AMAZING. there is no other word. after reading this book youll pick up on jakes little quirks like hearing everything literally and making a joke out of everything. if youre looking for something different and original, this is it. buy it, read it, and give it to a friend. youll miss writing notes with your friends too
Guest More than 1 year ago
I dislike reading, yet I read this book in ONE DAY! During School, after school, throughout my day I couldnt stop reading. I really got the chance to get into this book and feel related, like I knew the main character and everything. I Strongly recommend this book to anyone seeking a book. I couldnt put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book soooooooooooo much. I was hooked on the book from the beinning. After awhile you feel like you know this person and can really relate. Its all about hearing whats not said and reading between the lines. I could really feel for Jake and what he was going through. It made me want to stop talking too because it is just an amazing pholosphify that you can't screw anything up if you don't say anything at all. I would recommend this book to anyone who understands what it feels like to love someone who is oblivious to the fact of your feelings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
...how great this book is. You can really learn a lot about a person when they don't speak. You learn to listen to whats not said. Jake teaches and learns a great lesson in this. I can't wait for Hillary's next book.