What is it like not to have a voice? To be unable to share one’s thoughts and feelings with the people one cares about? What is it like to be alone “Out There” and voiceless?
Caroline Wissing’s stunning young adult novel, Voiceless, is narrated by Annabel, who was placed in foster care at Noble Spirit Farm. As the witness of a traumatic event, she has lost the ability to speak and must convey her thoughts and feelings with signs and emotional expression.
The first half of the novel takes place at Noble Spirit Farm, where Annabel and her foster siblings live in a world once-removed from the violence, alcoholism, and drug-abuse that have had an effect in shaping them. Annabel recalls in shimmering detail what makes a teenager’s life on the farm so special, so formative. She lovingly describes her relationships with her companions, both animal and human, whose idiosyncrasies will seem poignant and familiar to readers of all tastes.
Due to an unexpected event, Annabel must leave Noble Spirit Farm with Graydon, her first lover. The second half of the novel is set in downtown Ottawa, inside a crummy apartment rented by Graydon’s drug-dealing friend, Cooper. The contrast between life on the farm and life “Out There” with Graydon and Cooper is stark, indeed. While it would not be accurate to describe Wissing’s treatment of Noble Spirit Farm as idyllic, Annabel very soon comes to grasp the consequences of her decision and experiences a pining for a home left behind. As Annabel desperately attempts to adapt to life on her own, the novel touches on the great vices, injustices, and sins of our time, as encountered by one who cannot speak in their midst. Annabel’s experience in downtown Ottawa confronts her with a truly hopeless, quite nightmarish, existence, though Annabel’s youthful inner-strength, her innocence, her new friendships, and a bit of serendipity, allow her finally to seize her day.
Wissing is a very talented storyteller who demonstrates a knack for intertwining the past and the present. As a result, the novel reads beautifully, with every gesture, every moment, seeming to be gently lifted from time and impeccably preserved. The novel is well-balanced, the tone remarkably even, and the characters fully human and alive under Wissing’s seasoned touch. Voiceless is bittersweet, memorable, and true.
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