Alex is seventeen years old and she feels her life has come to an end. After being involved in an accident that killed her best friend, she doesn’t see why anyone would want her around and she refuses to talk. Ordered by a judge to do community service, she must spend time at a hospital with a girl named Joanie, who has minimal control of her body and no speech. Never having known another way of being, Joanie has an extraordinary internal life. She has been listening and watching as the world goes on around her, ...
Alex is seventeen years old and she feels her life has come to an end. After being involved in an accident that killed her best friend, she doesn’t see why anyone would want her around and she refuses to talk. Ordered by a judge to do community service, she must spend time at a hospital with a girl named Joanie, who has minimal control of her body and no speech. Never having known another way of being, Joanie has an extraordinary internal life. She has been listening and watching as the world goes on around her, but Joanie is so full of words, thoughts and images that if she could ever figure out a way to let them loose, they would come swirling out in a torrent of syllables. She would fill every room with the colors of her dreams until the whole world became a rainbow of her making. Brought together by accident, Alex and Joanie have experienced the helplessness of silence. Their growing connection may lead them both to find the power of their voices.
"The story is a moving one and deals with many issues such as overcoming trauma and grief. Readers will not only sympathize with the characters but will come to understand their personal conflicts on an emotional level...Shaw has written a novel that transcends differences and inspires hope in its readers. A great novel to use when dealing with death and grief and is suitable for a wide range of readers."
- Lorraine Donohue Bonzelet
Grief-ridden since the death of her friend, Alexandra (Alex) is on a self-imposed journey of silence, resisting communication with the people around her. Joanie, a severely disabled girl who is unable to communicate, is craving a connection with people. After a run in with the law, Alex is mandated to visit Joanie and help her use an eye-controlled speech computer. Reluctantly, Alex breaks her silence—and begins to heal. Although Joanie has a plethora of words she yearns to share, she has time to communicate just one special word—rainbow —before she dies. Instead of sharing Joanie's joy and accomplishment, Alex keeps the word a secret, once again struggling to control life and loss by controlling language. The chapters alternate between Alex's turmoil and Joanie's inner dreams and aspirations. This novel explores grief, communication, hope, healing, thoughts, and perceptions. Alex is physically capable of living a happy life but remains trapped in fear, selfishness, and negativity. Joanie is physically trapped but escapes into her rainbow, filling her mind with optimism. Joanie dies before she is able to reveal her colorful, upbeat, inquisitive, and endearing personality. Alex's life regains color as she has an emotional breakthrough. This is not a motivational "pick yourself up, get your act together, and skyrocket forward" story. For a teen experiencing the loss of someone special, it is (probably) a relatable, albeit sad, interpretation with a glimmer of hope in the end. Reviewer: Lorraine Donohue Bonzelet
- Loryn Aman
Seventeen-year-olds Alexandra and Joanie do not know one another, but both girls have trouble finding their voices. Alexandra (also called Alex or Lexi) blames herself for a terrible and tragic accident that took the life of her best friend, Cali, and each day she is haunted by that night and what could have been. She was once a girl who loved singing and performing, but now Alex has trouble uttering any words at all. Joanie, on the other hand, was born unable to speak or control her body's movements; each day she relives her memories and reflects on how she wishes she could express what she is thinking. Joanie has so much to say, but will she ever have a chance to articulate it? Alex's accident brings her into Joanie's life, and the two end up teaching one another how to find their voices again. This is a story that will stick with readers long after they finish the last page. Despite the subject matter being quite intense, Shaw does a fantastic job of showing how grief and hardship affect daily life and relationships. This would be a great recommendation for a young adult who is grieving or going through a tough situation; it could possibly help the reader to understand what it takes to work through difficulties. The characters have a true quality that is refreshing, and in turn, the story will leave a lasting impression. Reviewer: Loryn Aman
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Scarred by the trauma of a car accident that killed her best friend, Alex, 17, approaches her upcoming community-service assignment with a great deal of apprehension. She has barely spoken to anyone since the accident, still suffers with massive migraines, and can't get past the feeling that the accident was her fault. She is assigned to work at a hospital with a severely disabled girl about her age. Because of a neuromuscular disease, Joanie can't speak and is confined to bed. But in her head, her words and thoughts flow as beautifully as the colors of the rainbow she sees reflected in her room. Alex begins to think that Joanie can communicate more than people realize, and together they take some preliminary steps to try and get the words out of Joanie's head. In the process, Alex opens up to Joanie, talking to her more than to anyone else, and Joanie, in her own way, responds to Alex's friendship. When Joanie suffers from an untimely illness, Alex is forced to confront death once again, but this time she takes steps toward healing. The story alternates narrators-in one chapter Alex flashes back to the events leading up to the accident and then focuses on her current situation while in the next chapter, Joanie shares her thoughts and memories of the world around her. This plot structure takes a little getting used to, but it gives a more personal viewpoint to the events. The story starts slowly but builds to a strong emotional climax and gives readers a sense that Alex will recover from her trauma as her world slowly regains color.—Diana Pierce, Leander High School, TX
A traumatized teen heals with the help of a Very Special Disabled Girl who exists to teach her an Important Lesson. Alex has barely spoken since the car accident that took the life of her best friend Cali. Traumatized and self-absorbed, the former Broadway-musical buff has avoided school, singing and conversation for a year. Court-ordered community service introduces her to Joanie, whose neuromuscular disorder prevents her from speaking. Brief chapters reveal both girls' viewpoints: Alex's silent and empty present interspersed with flashbacks to her joyful friendship with the boisterous Cali; Joanie's silent and friendless hospitalization similarly flashing back to her social life before her illness became so severe. Alex, arriving as Joanie's court-mandated friend, is roped by an eager speech therapist into helping Joanie learn to use an eye-controlled speech board. It doesn't take long before Joanie's eagerness, optimism and need draw Alex out of her grief and self-loathing. Tragedy strikes for Joanie, but she's served her fictional purpose: Alex is cured. All Joanie's endearing characterization is for naught, as the stale trope of disabled person dying to teach a life lesson overwhelms her personhood. Ultimately, this is Alex's tale alone; Joanie could just as easily have been a Very Special Old Person or a Very Special Poor Person. For a nonverbal teen who is a character and not just a plot device, leave this aside and try Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind (2010). (Fiction. 12-16)