Saturday, July 9, 2022

Book Review: The Other Side of Silence by Margaret Mahy (1995)

Hero, whose mother wrote a famous parenting book and raised several academically gifted children, is the youngest in her family, and she almost never speaks. To escape her parents and siblings, she often leaves the house and hides out in the tree in a neighbor's yard down the street. When the neighbor finds her there one day, she invites her in, and hires her to do a little work around the house. After spending some time there, however, Hero realizes the warm welcome she has received might not be as friendly as it seems on the surface, and she needs to find a way to communicate to her family what's really going on.  

I was looking for a book to fulfill a challenge prompt, which asked for a book with a quiet word in the title. My husband, who has not read this book, handed this one to me. The only other Margaret Mahy novel I've read is The Haunting, and that was pretty strange from the outset, so when this one was a little more in the vein of ordinary young adult fiction, I let my guard down and settled into the world of the story. The result is that when things got weird, as they did about 90% into the book, I was caught utterly off-guard. Not since Afternoon of the Elves have I been so disturbed by a book for children! 

It's hard for me to say right now whether I will give this book to any of my kids. My oldest is eight, and it's definitely too dark in tone for me to suggest to her right now, but she doesn't mind scary or creepy things, so I think when she's 13 or 14, she might enjoy it. My second daughter is so sensitive, I'm not sure she'd be able to stand the shift in tone near the end of the story. I would not have handled it well as a kid. As an adult, I was disturbed enough.

Often, I think it's fine to take the word of a trusted reviewer rather than to pre-read every book yourself, but this is one that I think parents need to read ahead of time so they know what their kids are getting into. It's definitely not just a sweet slice-of-life YA book, however much it may feel that way until almost the end.

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