This is the story of a family where each member is struggling to cope with a crisis that threatens to break them apart. The crisis is that Isabelle, the young daughter, suddenly stops speaking and the patience and care of her parents and the help of several therapists cannot encourage her to begin speaking again. All of them (including Isabelle, who is equally as frustrated with herself as her parents are with her) are on the edge of despair and the family is beginning to disintegrate.

I feel a bit guilty saying this but I find myself not feeling any sympathy for Isabelle and really struggling to like her; if she’d suffered some kind of trauma that had caused her to react in this way then I could understand it, but there doesn’t seem to have been any such trauma – on the contrary, this inability to speak seems (to me) to be more stubbornness mixed with a personal desire to reach a target of days of non-speaking. I couldn’t help feeling as I was reading the book that she was just a stubborn and indulged child who realised she had power over her parents, and she could speak if she had chosen to and it just suited her not to (being more generous, perhaps it had gone too far for her to easily correct and she then didn’t feel in control of it herself which obviously would have caused her distress). I felt huge sympathy for her parents who were bending over backwards for her and desperately worried and who had turned their lives upside down for her, risking their marriage and careers and totally taken over by their concerns for her to the detriment of everything else.

At times Isabelle seemed quite selfish, eg if she doesn’t get what she wants such as the breakfast in the café or the visit to the giftshop museum because she doesn’t voice her desires then she is angry and sulks, yet she won’t talk and express her wants and she just expects her parents to guess and then punishes them when they don’t guess correctly. I can see that perhaps Isabelle’s silence is due to a control issue, much as anorexia, and I do want to feel sorry for her but I can’t decide if she could speak and just chooses not to or if she is unable to control it and it is a symptom of an illness or problem. Yet another part of me thinks it is for attention and effect. She is an interesting character as I think she is aware of the distress she is causing her parents and she seems to hate herself for this, so I’m intrigued by the fact that she’s aware of others’ feelings as this doesn’t seem the act of a selfish person, and also the hating herself could be then adding to some kind of depression she is suffering. I am interested in the fact her parents have been told she hasn’t got Asperger’s or Autism as her love of order and routine would seem to possibly point to this.

I was intrigued as to how the author wants the reader to view Isabelle – is it to sympathise with her or to disapprove of her? And is it Isabelle’s story and experiences being told or is it her parents’, and who does the author want us to sympathise with? My sympathy throughout the book is definitely with the parents and I struggle to feel any sympathy for Isabelle.

I find Isabelle’s thoughts and logic and comments on things and people she sees very interesting, I’m not sure if they’re the thoughts of an 11 year old as they seem very considered and mature. Perhaps Isabelle is more mature than other 11 year olds and her thought processes have developed with the loss of her voice, but I wonder if they are actually the author’s thoughts and this would explain why they don’t read right and seem quite adult thoughts in a child’s mind (I personally think this is the case, which explains the slightly unbelievable feel to Isabelle’s thoughts). I also wonder if the author has any experience with mental issues in children, as it doesn’t really read like it to me.

At the end of the book, my thoughts were the same as Isabelle’s mum’s – that if Isabelle does speak again it doesn’t mean then that the whole dreadful experience is behind them; Isabelle could go silent again if her parents do anything to upset or anger her. Therefore the potential of her being silent again would be a very powerful threat or weapon present all the time – as mum says, “A march through a minefield where any misstep might be the end of them.” A child shouldn’t have that level of power and control over their parents.

So, all in all, this book made me think a great deal and was interesting to read, but there seemed a few inconsistencies that bothered me.

December (Paperback)

By (author): Elizabeth H. Winthrop

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