Tackling real world issues with sensitivity and grace, this is a touching contemporary novel about learning to accept yourself, speak out for others and let people into your heart.
When Jordyn Michaelson's autistic brother joins her at her elite school, she's determined not to let anyone know they're related. Even if that means closing herself off to all her closest friends, including charming football stud Alex Colby. But she just can't shake the memory of kissing Alex last summer, and the desire to do it again.
Can Jordyn find the courage to tell Alex how she really feelsand the truth about her familybefore he slips away forever?
Chosen by readers like you for Macmillan's young adult imprint Swoon Reads, Karole Cozzo’s heartfelt debut novel How to Say I Love You Out Loud will stay with readers long after they have finished reading.
Praise for How to Say I Love You Out Loud:
“A budding romance with family drama and a feel-good ending.” School Library Journal
"A book of acceptance, bravery, and most of all, love. ” Bibliophile Soprano
"An impactful story about love, compassion, and the power of your voice.” Snuggly Oranges
About the Author
Karole Cozzo is a school psychologist by day, a wife and mother of two by night, and a writer of YA romance in the wee hours of the morning. She loves camping out at Starbucks, breakfast cereal at all hours, and watching every movie made from her favorite YA books. How to Say I Love You Out Loud is her debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
How to Say I Love You Out Loud
By Karole Cozzo
Swoon ReadsCopyright © 2015 Karole Cozzo
All rights reserved.
There's a particular kind of energy radiating from school on the first day, part nervous freshman energy, part rambunctious senior energy, and part look-how-I-reinvented-myself-over-the-summer energy. The vibe is the same every year, at any given school, even as the students change, as the timid freshmen become bored sophomores and a new graduating class takes over. The excitement will, very predictably, dissipate by Friday, but on the Tuesday after Labor Day, the return of students turns the school and parking lot into a veritable beehive alive with the buzz of frantic activity and socializing.
As I walk toward the front door, Erin Blackwell struggles to catch up with me while holding her Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup steady, her designer flip-flops slapping the concrete. "Hi, Jordyn," she greets me tersely.
"Hey, Erin. What's wrong?"
It's only 7:42 a.m., and we haven't even stepped into the building yet. I don't know how or why she already looks stressed, but she does. Erin is sort of perpetually stressed. As are a lot of kids at Valley Forge High School.
As am I a lot of the time, if I'm being honest. Stress is absorbed through osmosis around here.
"Ugh." Erin shakes her head in disgust. "It took me forever to get my contacts in, so my hair started to frizz, and it's so humid that the waves wouldn't hold when I finally did get around to doing it. The drive-through at Dunkin' was backed up, like, a mile, and they forgot to put the caramel in my cappuccino anyway. Which is all really unfortunate because now I'm late, and I look a hot mess, and I have A.P. Bio first period. I think Bryce is in my section, and it would have been really nice to actually feel like I have my shit together before walking in there." Finally she remembers to breathe. "How can I be so far behind before the day's even started?"
Erin's anxiety is so potent, I need to take a deep breath of my own.
Erin is a doe-eyed Bella Thorne look-alike, and I assess her long, strawberry-blond locks. "Your hair looks gorgeous. You look gorgeous. We still have twelve minutes before the homeroom bell. And I thought things were getting better with Bryce?"
She'd had a rough summer as she tried to move on from their dramatic breakup in June.
"They are. It's just hard being back at school." She frowns. "Makes me feel like things should go back to the way they were last year. Plus, I don't really feel like hearing him join in on all that BS where the guys rate the hottest freshman girls, ya know?"
"Well, I think you're one of the hottest junior girls." I smile and tug on the bottom of one impeccably curled strand of her hair. "He's going to see you and regret everything."
"Everything" being the girl from the Shipley School he hooked up with behind Erin's back.
Erin stops in her tracks and looks at me, chewing her lip. "Really? You think he'll even notice?"
I take a final deep breath as we approach the front door. It's only 7:43 and already I'm exhausted. "Positive."
We push into the fray and are swept up in the tide of students moving through the lobby. Dana Travers, senior cocaptain of the varsity field hockey team, rushes past us, sending a reminder over her shoulder. "Practice starts on time today, ladies. No first day excuses."
I nod, even though I lack Dana's zeal for competitive team sports. But I need some kind of athletic activity to round out my college applications and I'm a decent midfielder, so hockey it is.
A group of students from the exclusive Musicians' Guild are already disassembling their instruments after what must have been a very early morning rehearsal. As we move through the shifting crowd, which emits loud voices and sweaty energy, I notice a serious-looking kid leaning against the wall and pushing his glasses up his nose as he reads a physics textbook, one overachiever of many. We haven't even been to homeroom yet.
The atmosphere in the lobby leaves me feeling dazed and sluggish, and I struggle to wrap my head around the frenzy. I'm still on summer time. Life was much more relaxed when I was peddling Philly soft pretzels at the tennis club poolside snack bar, chatting with Alex when he appeared at the side window covered in dirt and grass clippings during a break from the hot sun and the demands of keeping the golf course pristine with the rest of the grounds crew.
To be honest, though, there's a part of me that has a hard time keeping pace with the student body at Valley Forge regardless of the season. This will be my second year at Valley Forge High School. My family moved to Berwyn from Lansdale, a town about thirty minutes away, last summer. At my old school, most kids didn't really care that much about their grades or extracurricular activities, knowing they'd end up in nearby state schools. My new classmates always seem to be looking over their shoulders to see who might be gaining on them. Last year, I felt like at the same time people were sizing me up as a new friend, they were assessing me as some kind of potential threat. To their class rank. To their first-chair position in orchestra. To their acceptance letter from Princeton.
I don't get it, or maybe they just don't get me. I prefer to fly under the radar, and I'm sure as hell not trying to steal anyone's spotlight. I hate the feeling of eyes on me, always have. I've had way too many eyes on me over the years, even if they weren't on me, per se. Even after a year, I'm still not sure how well I fit in here. Crammed like a sardine in the small upper lobby waiting for the homeroom bell, I feel strangely alone and disconnected.
Then I catch sight of something familiar, propped against the foot of one of the old wooden benches. It's a worn black JanSport, with ALEX written in Wite-Out across the front pocket. I perk up at once, instantly feeling more grounded. Alex is around here somewhere. He'll throw me my favorite smile — the one that makes it seem like we're laughing at some joke no one else gets — and this place won't seem as serious or intense.
Suddenly, I can't wait to see him. We haven't talked much in the past few weeks, because his family was on vacation and he stopped working at the club when two-a-days started for the football team. Sometimes I'd see him down by the field after our evening practices, but most nights he seemed kind of distracted, überfocused on football, I guess. Alex isn't the best player in the world. No matter how many wind sprints he runs or how much time he spends in the weight room, he's perpetually second string. You can tell it annoys the crap out of him, this one thing Mr. Perfect can't be perfect at. I find his frustration sort of endearing. And the rest of the team must find his persistence admirable, because they elected him cocaptain, second-string skills and all. He's just got those natural leadership genes, like a young, half Hispanic Barack Obama or something.
Alex is good people. And as if to prove my point, he walks through the door closest to the teacher lot, barely visible behind the tall stack of books he's carrying for Mrs. Higgins, our ancient librarian, who hobbles alongside him, smiling up in admiration.
I bite my lip to keep from giggling. My friend is such a Boy Scout. Seriously. I'm not kidding — he's an actual Boy Scout who's been working on this big Eagle Scout project in whatever spare time he has, which isn't much. But on a daily basis, he seems to go around earning merit badges in Helpfulness and Nobleness and all that good stuff.
"I'll be right back," I tell Erin, and take off in his direction.
He notices me over the top of the books and grins instantaneously. "Air Jordan, there you are!"
I smile in response to today's selection from his litany of ridiculous nicknames: Air Jordan ... M.J. ... Twenty-three ... or as he called me for a while in Spanish class last year, Veintitrés.
I can't think of a single thing I have in common with the basketball icon Michael Jordan, other than my name, which is Jordyn Michaelson. I'm five foot three, with hazel eyes and wavy dark shoulder-length hair cut in layers. Female. And white — sadly so, being that summer just ended. But for whatever reason, Alex is amused by the stupid nicknames. Thing is, as stupid as I find them, it's impossible to look at his face when he's busy cracking himself up and not feel amused, too.
His brown eyes get all sparkly, and his wide grin of even white teeth gets all goofy. Combined with the close-cropped black hair and slight widow's peak, all I see is a little boy looking for mischief. Alex is one of those people who looks right at you, for real, and practically dares you to make mischief with him.
Hurrying toward him, I realize I'm opening my arms to give him a hug, even though hugging isn't something we usually do. There are unspoken boundaries we have not dared to cross, not even dared to approach, since last year. I'm so focused on Alex that I don't even notice Leighton Lyons, our other hockey cocaptain, trotting across the lobby from the opposite direction, until we have a full-on collision. Our shoulders slam into each other's and I stumble backward, off balance, my heavy backpack nearly pulling me down.
I right myself and rub my shoulder, grumbling inwardly. Girl really needs to learn that other people inhabit this planet. Where is she headed in such a hurry?
When I look up, I get my answer, even though it's not one that makes sense. Not. At. All. I see her arms wrapped around Alex's torso, beating me to the punch with a hug. Then I watch as she does one better and plants a quick, flirty kiss upon his lips. "Hey, babe."
I stand and stare in disbelief, like an idiot, waiting for it to compute. Which it doesn't. Leighton hugging Alex. Leighton kissing Alex. Leighton calling Alex babe. What? When? How?
But none of it cuts as deeply as him casually looping his arm around her waist and turning to talk to me like none of this requires an explanation. Like none of this should bother me in any way. At least he has the decency to ask if I'm okay, which Leighton does not. "You alright, Jordyn?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Even though suddenly I'm not. There's a sick feeling in my gut as the realization sinks in that suddenly everything is different.
"Please," Leighton interjects. "She takes harder hits than that on the field every day." Pinching Alex's side, she smirks at him. I notice how they stand exactly eye to eye, the same height, and I feel small and insignificant. "We're just as tough as you guys, right, Jordyn?"
"It's so good to see you," he says, smiling all the while, but rubbing her hand with the pad of his thumb while he says it. "I was so pissed I had to miss the staff party. You'll have to give me the recap."
I swallow my feelings and try not to bat an eye. "Yeah, it was quite the event. They added karaoke this year. And to be honest, I really would have been okay with summer ending with out having to see Mr. Jacoby perform 'Happy' in a bathing suit."
Alex throws his head back and laughs, his full belly laugh, the one that always makes me feel like tiny seeds in my heart are blooming. His laughter nurtures some kind of longing that has no business being rooted there. His arm around Leighton's waist makes those little sprouts of wistfulness wilt and topple as quickly as they sprang up.
"Please tell me you were a backup dancer for him at least."
"Absolutely." I smile in spite of myself, in spite of the Leighton-shaped elephant in the room, and shake my head. "You know me so well."
"Did Petersen show up really drunk again?" he asks, referring to the president of the club. "Hit on any of the lifeguards who aren't even legal yet?"
Leighton tugs on the bottom of Alex's shirt before I get a chance to answer. "Hey, listen, I need to talk to you about some Athletic Council stuff real quick and I've got to run to the ladies' before homeroom, so can we ..." She's talking to Alex but looking at me, waiting for me to make myself scarce.
"Yeah, sure, babe." He nods quickly, the word sounding even more wrong coming from his lips than hers. Alex tightens his grip on her and turns in the direction of the side hallway, where there's some space. He talks over his shoulder as they walk. "We'll catch up in history, okay, Michaelson?"
I nod, ignoring the tightness in my throat. Before, his use of my last name used to feel intimate. Now it reminds me that I'm a buddy and nothing more.
This is what you wanted, I remind myself as I turn away from the train wreck and walk back toward Erin, who's talking with our friend Tanu. Just friends, right? You're lucky you walked away with that much.
But I guess I'd thought ... I guess I'd thought that somehow, by keeping him as a close friend, I could still call Alex mine. It was easy enough last year when he wasn't dating anyone. Having Alex as a best friend was an acceptable consolation prize when I couldn't have anything more. I'd grown comfortable with the idea and never given much thought to how things might change.
I sneak a quick peek over my shoulder. Leighton's back is against the wall and Alex has one arm above her head, keeping her in place, his body pressed against hers. I wonder what Athletic Council business has anything to do with their mouths mashed together like that.
Erin is much less discreet. She gapes, openmouthed, at the happy couple. "Wow, Leighton and Alex, really? When did that happen?"
"Oh, sometime this summer. Someone posted a picture on Facebook," Tanu says.
I wonder how many hours each day Tanu spends on Facebook. I also wonder if I'm the last person to know everything.
"It was this superhot picture," she continues, causing the sick feeling in my gut to flare up. "He's in his football jersey and she's all blond and tan. They're like ... Tyler and Caroline from Vampire Diaries, that's what it makes me think of. Or more specifically, you know when Tyler and Caroline kissed for the first time? Season two, episode twelve?"
"No, I don't know." Erin laughs. "We don't all have a photographic memory like you do."
"Anyway, that's what the picture looks like. They look so good together. And I want a boyfriend."
Now Erin is frowning again. "Me too. The two of them are just so perfect. That really makes me miss Bryce."
I square my shoulders and bite back my irritation. "Let's talk about something else." If campus is a beehive, Leighton is definitely its queen. And maybe I secretly call Alex Mr. Perfect. Somehow it doesn't translate into them being perfect together. At least not to me.
I engage them in other mindless gossip, trying to keep my thoughts away from the truth of the matter, which is that the sight of Alex and Leighton kissing really makes me miss someone, too.
But how can you miss someone you never really had?
What right do you have to miss someone when you were the person who walked away from them?
We continue on toward our respective homerooms.
I became friends with Erin and Tanu last fall, when we were all in the same English class together, and they're my best friends here at Valley Forge High School. But I'm not the kind of girl who shares every little detail about herself, even with my closest friends. School and home are two separate parts of my life, and as long as it stays like that ... I don't know how "close" my girlfriends will ever really feel.
"Considering how humid it is today, does one of you have time to drop me off before practice? I really don't feel like walking."
Hockey practice is a bit of a sore subject with Tanu. She was also looking for a sport to complement the impressive academic and artistic sections of her résumé, but she didn't make the cut after tryouts in July.
Erin shakes her head, strawberry-blond curls flying. "Oh, hell no. You know I would if I could, but I'm not going to be the person walking onto the field late. Leighton would have my ass. She thinks it's really important for us to be on time."
Most things that are important to Leighton are important to Erin. Leighton is sort of her role model. Maybe even her idol.
"It's, like, a six-minute round trip!"
"Still. I don't feel like chancing it. Leighton says ..."
I clamp my lips together to keep from groaning. Erin, God love her, starts way too many sentences with "Leighton says."
"... everyone always takes the guys' sports teams so much more seriously than the girls'. If we want to be taken seriously, and given as much credit for our hard work, we have to take ourselves seriously."
Excerpted from How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo. Copyright © 2015 Karole Cozzo. Excerpted by permission of Swoon Reads.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Overall, I enjoyed How to Say I Love You Out Loud, but there wasn't anything that really stood out for me. I've found that as I get older it's becoming harder to read young adult books. That being said, I thought Karole Cozzo was an excellent writer and her story was well paced and developed. I really liked Alex as a hero and he's pretty much perfect. Granted, he's a bit mature compared to most teenage boys but I had no problems with that. Alex is so compassionate and dedicated and I loved his playground project. He's also an amazing friend to Jordyn, especially considering that he originally wanted Jordan as a girlfriend. Talk about your friend zone! Jordyn was a little hard to sympathize with but the story is focused on her growth emotionally so it's to be expected. I can't imagine what it's like to grow up with someone who is so severely autistic and to feel like you've been left behind on the priority list. I don't know that I'd make the choices Jordyn did, but I'm not in her place, so it's hard to know. Though I struggled with Jordyn, I compliment Cozzo on creating such a well developed character that brought out a strong emotion.
"I am so alone, all the time, even when I'm surrounded by people. Sometimes I get really tired of the walls, and I wish I had the strength to just go at them with a sledgehammer How to Say I Love You Out Loud was a doozy. With the cute, quirky cover and hearts and whatnot, I was kind of led to think this was a sweet contemporary with a bit of autism thrown in. But oh, how much more this book was. Jordyn has recently moved to a new high school, and though she's become friends with some of the students the past year, she still doesn't feel comfortable enough to let even the closest of them in on a little secret: her brother's autistic. This wouldn't be that big of a deal if he was a quiet kid, but there are times when he goes a bit ballistic. That compiled with an event in elementary school has made Jordyn wary of telling anyone about Phillip. As a child growing up with a sibling who wasn't considered "normal", this book spoke to me in many ways. First, the way we react, socially, to our close and familial "idiosyncrasies", has a lot to do with how much support we've been given about it in previous years. Second, our reactions can still be influenced by acceptance or rejection of our peers (and, as all teens go, our peers' reactions to things almost always takes precedence over the ones of our parents'). Third, the way a sibling or loved one not "normal" behaves in public, though always not their fault, can still embarrass us (and that's okay). And fourth, growing up whilst trying to learn who you are and what you stand for and who you want others to know you are and what you stand for is hard enough without someone else coming along and derailing it because of their own identity. Not only is Jordyn dealing with all of these issues, but when her brother suddenly has to be at the same school, things start to fall apart. It's taken Jordyn a long time to get to the point where she feels safe enough to open up to people (or, er, opening up as much as she will, anyway), and the social ladder is what it is to a barely-there-for-a-year high schooler, without her liking the guy the main popular crazy likes, and anyone knowing about Phillip. So add the usual privacy about her brother to the crushing on Alex to the psycho field hockey leader/Alex's girl, and it makes sense why things seem to start falling apart as her facade begins to crumble. Sure, Jordyn makes some dumb decisions. Sure, it takes her a while to come around. But social suicide is often not a choice amongst "normal" teens... let alone teens stuck with a socially unacceptable element that's been thrown into the mix. Not only that, but family life with a child with needs is no laughing matter. It takes a lot to always be pushed aside, and the making of a super-tough shell to handle that year after year after year. Because of that, I felt for Jordyn (even though, near the end, I did want to knock her upside her head). But the author stayed true to Jordyn's character, even making Alex (oh, ALEX) chew her out for taking so long to get her crap together; and, in the end, the lesson learned was done by Jordyn alone, and that was what made it so spectacular. Five stars, and can't wait to read whatever Karole writes next.
This was a great story. I loved it. It was heartfelt, it was fun, it was important. There needs to be more books about mental illness and the stigma surrounding them, and I thought this was very well done. I also love how this was from the viewpoint of not someone who has it, but a close family member that is affected by it. Jordyn is your normal high school junior. She's starting her second year at a new school. She doesn't let anyone get close to her, because of her brother, who's autistic. Jordyn is pretty resentful and bitter at how is autism has taken over their life, but especially how she got teased for it in grade school. Since then, she's taken pains to separate herself from him, even hiding him from her closest friend, Alex. But then her brother has to come to her school for a while, and her secret risks being exposed. Some people may not take to Jordyn, especially at first. She may come across a little selfish and unfeeling, but she's more scared. She doesn't like to stand up to people, and so she does whatever she can to avoid attention. But Jordyn does a lot of growing and soul-searching, and I loved seeing how much she matured. And Alex. Is he even a real high school boy? (I'm going with no. Too perfect.) But he was awesome and understanding, but even he had his breaking point. But this was really a story about family, more than the romance. Jordyn had to come to terms with her brother, and she did so beautifully. This was not a hard read, or a long one. But it was a great story that came to a beautiful conclusion and I loved it.
I read an earlier version of this manuscript over on the Swoon Reads website and fell in love with Jordyn and Alex, so when the final published version was available, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. It's as good as I remembered and then some. Jordyn's story is one I think a lot of teens can relate to, particularly teens with a special-needs sibling. It's not always easy to like Jordyn, but it's easy to understand her. Being the new girl in high school is hard enough without being the new girl with the "weird" brother. Jordyn struggles with her friendship with Alex, keeping her relationship to Phillip a secret, and just trying to get through the next sixty days until Phillip is moved to a different school and life can return to normal. But of course things don't go according to play and how Jordyn steps up and becomes the girl we all know she can be is really what this story is about. Plot On the surface, it seems to be just a story about a girl who loves a boy she can't have, but it soon becomes clear it's so much more than that. Jordyn struggles with a loving a younger brother who doesn't seem to be able to reciprocate. Being the older sister of an autistic sibling is challenging enough, but when his attendance at her school threatens Jordyn's social status, she'll need to decide where her loyalties really lie. And it's in this subtext where the plot really unfolds. Characters Yes, Jordyn is selfish at times, worried about what others think of her, terrified of being bullied, or worse, excluded, but show me a teenager who isn't. She's incredibly authentic and her growth through the story is honest, painfully so at times. This is Jordyn's story and she's well-crafted, deep, and yes, flawed. I get why people might not love her, but I love her for her faults, for being who she is, warts and all. Watching her development over the course of the story was incredibly rewarding. Alex, the love interest, is adorable, and Leighton, the antagonist, is just bitchy enough without succumbing to a stereotype. None of the other characters have anywhere near Jordyn's depth, though. This is a character-driven story, and it's all about Jordyn. We spend a lot of time in her head, so it's a good thing she's got so much going on in there! Writing Author, Karole Cozzo, has done her homework, bringing to vivid life what it's like to live with an autistic family member -- the lows, the highs, and everything in between -- with heart and more than a few tears. Ending Jordyn completes her journey as she should, showing us that life isn't black and white, and sometimes it's hard to say what you need to out loud, but so rewarding when you finally do.
Jordyn has recently joined a new school, where she’s making new friends and creating a new life for herself. Her worst fears come true when her autistic brother’s special school closes and he is therefore forced to join her school until a new school location is obtained for him. Jordyn loves her brother, but the thought of anyone finding out that her brother is autistic is beyond her imagination. She has kept this fact hidden for the entire summer and into the school year, and she fears having it known now. The fact that Jordyn was ashamed of the fact that she had an autistic brother was a very real concern that I think many people are faced with. Whether it be autism or another disability, it’s tough for younger people to accept that it’s okay to have a differently-abled sibling or member of the family, and to not be embarrassed by their disability, but instead embrace it. It’s easy to hate Jordyn in this story and judge her for feeling the way she does, but it’s also important that we look at why she felt this way, and how she grew and changed her opinions throughout the story. The characters in this story were so much fun. Jordyn, though completely lost and overly judgmental, was still easy for me to relate to. She had her issues that she really struggled with… but the struggle was real, and I could completely appreciate it. Alex, Jordyn’s friend that she met over the summer, was impossible not to fall in love with. He was such a wonderful friend and so supportive to no end. Phillip character was extremely important to this story as well, very realistically showing his struggles with his disability, as well a show it affected his entire family and everyone else surrounding him. The way the kids at school reacted to the incidents he was involved in seemed pretty accurate and honestly broke my heart at bit. It was nice to see the strong parental presence Jordyn’s mother had in her family. We don’t see that nearly enough in YA. The swoon factor was definitely there… and it was strong!! I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling anything, but just know that despite the sensitive and extremely important issues that are discussed in this book, you will also find yourself giddy and swooning all over the place. This was such a strong story that really stuck with me long after finishing. I think many people will benefit from this story, both for the message regarding children with autism and other disabilities, as well as learning to grow and become a better, understanding, and more loving person. The writing was strong and the story line was even stronger. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Karole Cozzo comes out with next!
Is this book good? Right now I am reading "How to Keep Rolling After a Fall," written by the same author that wrote this book and the book I am reading is reeeeaaaalllllyyyyyy good! If this book is good I will get it, but if it isn't worth 7.99 please tell me.