The Way I Say it

by Nancy Tandon
First sentence: “I can’t say my name.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is pretty explicit bullying, a child gets in a bike accident and ends up with a brain injury, and there is talk of crushes and liking girls. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Rory has problems saying his /r/ sounds, which is why he has a hard time saying his name. He’s in 6th grade, which he feels is a bit too old to be in speech therapy with the school pathologist, but since he can’t say the r-sound correctly, off he goes. He’s bullied for not talking right, and even though he’s a brilliant 11-year-old guitar player who likes classic metal /rock) he’s still shunned. Especially by his ex-best friend Brent.

The book goes over the whole sixth-grade year (which is a bit excessive, I think, for a middle-grade book), following Rory as he learns to navigate 6th grade without his best friend. He makes new friends, he enjoyed speech class because of his super cool teacher, Mr. Simms, and after Brent has a bike accident (he’s hit y a drunk driver) and ends up in speech class with Rory, he learns to maybe find a way to get past the betrayal he felt from becsue of Brent’s actions. Oh, plus there’s a bully.

I felt like, reading this book, I could play Middle Grade Novel Trope Bingo, and get at last a bingo, if not a blackout. Magical white male teacher? Check. Magical Negro friend who is super upbeat and inspirational? Check. Cute girl, who he has a crush on but is afraid to tell her? Check. Super good at something unique, like the guitar? Check. Clueless parents (overprotective mom, and dad he can’t connect with)? Check. Bully who is “ethnic”? Check. So. many. tropes. I got so tired of trope after trope after trope. Tandon is a speech pathologist, and I could tell that she wanted to highlight some interesting and different methods to get kids to say their sounds right. But that was the only part of the book I felt she cared about. The rest of the book – from the bullying at school to the breakup with the friend, to the ineffective parents (all around – Brent’s mother made him RIDE THE BUS the day he started back at school after his accident. What parent does that?!) was just mediocre at best.

*sigh* You can’t win them all.

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