I had no idea what to expect of Say What You Will when I picked it up. Yeah, the summary compares it to The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor & Park, but to be honest, comparing one book to another has never really been an adequate way of giving you a feel for a book, in my opinion. You could compare stories, but the styles would be different, or you can compare style, but the characters are not at all comparable. And Say What You Will is a beautiful novel that deserves its own recognition.
McGovern introduces us to Amy and Matthew, two seniors in high school who are very unique. Amy has severe physical disabilities that hinder her walking and speech, while Matthew suffers OCD and anxiety disorders that get worse and worse each day. But where Matthew lacks in mental abilities, Amy runs in stride and is one of the best students in her class. Juxtaposing Amy to this boy who is supposed to be somewhat of a mentor to her and watching this friendship that blossoms between them, creates a widely dynamic relationship.
I have never read a book about a teenager with disabilities like Amy, so you can see where this book would be educational for me. But I also found it really interesting to see how making her friends with Matthew, and the fact that she feels sorry for him is a great way to depict the seriousness of mental disabilities. McGovern even writes in the novel that people will never blame a person for their physical disabilities, but they will blame a person for their mental disabilities, which seems to be the unfortunate truth in the world we live in.
As someone who struggles with her own type of anxiety, I could relate to Matthew’s character and the struggles he encounters, and the fact that McGovern doesn’t blame Matthew for his OCD and social anxiety is really comforting to me, and I’m sure also comforting to a large number of other readers. I am constantly told to “get over my anxiety”, and it’s nice to finally hear someone speak out and that it’s not that easy.
By the time I was finished reading the novel, I was offended that it got compared to such other teen novels. Say What You Will deals with a lot of issues that YA novels deal with: friendship, romance, fitting in, etc. But it does so in such a mature way that I have not seen before, giving loads of character development even in the first few chapters. It feels very real. And it’s been a painful amount of time since I’ve read a book where I felt so strongly for the characters and what they were going through.
If not for the friendship and the YA aspects of this novel, I implore that everyone read it to learn how to be tolerant and less ignorant of people living with a disability – any type of disability.