09 October 2014

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

I first read about Say What You Will in an Entertainment Weekly article highlighting important YA books coming out this year. I can certainly see what they meant.

Say tells the story of Amy, a girl born with cerebral palsy, and Matthew, a boy with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and their quirky friendship that blossoms into romance. It’s a beautiful story, and it’s so great to see disability portrayed so realistically and compassionately. It’s rare to see emotional disability given equal weight with physical disability, but Say shows the toll that OCD takes on Matthew, and how it isolates him just as much as Amy’s cerebral palsy.

Say was very compellingly written in third person, with chapters from both Amy and Matthew’s points of view, and even, at times, chains of emails, which gave it an epistolary feel. Amy and Matthew were both well-drawn, likable protagonists, sad and honest and funny. Watching them come out of their shells was a joy. In the mistakes they made, both with themselves and with each other, they were no different than any other teenagers. Heartbreakingly so.

But the more I think about Say, the more it rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong - I really did love it - but there were times it made me angry. It felt like, at times, both Amy and Matthew were trying to fix each other. It didn’t really work - it is my experience that you can never fix anyone besides yourself - but I didn’t feel like Amy and Matthew really learned that lesson about each other.

That’s the only real complaint I had about the book. It was still brilliant. It still brought something most of us aren’t all that comfortable with - people with disabilities - into the spotlight and made me see them it a new way. Growing up, I wasn’t around many people my age with disabilities. I had two cousins (actually, one cousin twice removed, plus her husband) with cerebral palsy, but I only saw them once a year. I remember being as fascinated and scared of them as Matthew is of Amy.

Say What You Will was touching and brave, and I’m so glad I read it. Despite my own beefs with it, I really did enjoy it, and would recommend it to anyone.