BWW Review: IF YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING NICE TO SAY by Leila Sales
"It takes such a brief time to destroy someone else's life and forget that you ever did it. But rebuilding a life--that's different That takes forever."
~IF YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING NICE TO SAY
IF YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING NICE TO SAY by Leila Sales just came out, and it's a "hot button" book with a flawed, often unlikable main character. The book revolves around internet shaming and cyber bullying. It's definitely an important title, and one that will have people talking. It's absolutely a conversation starter. It's a good book club option, as well as great for the classroom. Internet shaming and cyber bullying are huge issues and can lead to suicide. When you are both a victim and a villain due to your own actions, how do you move on?
A former National Spelling Bee Champion, Winter makes a joke online about the current year's results, thinking that she's highlighting a statistic about the course of the Bee's history. People who know her realize her intent. But the post goes viral and people are calling her racist and leaving her death threats. She loses friends. Her college admission is revoked; the school wants nothing to do with her. She can't even get a job. Her life is utterly destroyed. Winter must do a lot of soul searching... and figure out her own flaws. She must stop focusing on her INTENT and start understanding how her words genuinely hurt others.
There are so many other great elements layered in naturally throughout the book as well, such as...
- The fact that the love interest is paraplegic and in a wheelchair. And that is amazing and so important for teens in similar situations to see!
- The fact that the main character is Jewish and Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the year, occurs during the book. Recently, a few of us were talking on social media about how we wished there were more books where non-Christian holidays were celebrated. Granted, we were talking about Christmas/Hanukkah/etc., but this is still awesome and I will take it! (There's even Yiddish sprinkled throughout the book. I just loved the way it was all ingrained so naturally. The author doesn't stop to point everything out or translate a saying. It's everyday life for Winter and her family, something they'd never think twice about!)
Neither one of these things is the focal part of the story, of course. Just lovely little asides woven into its fabric. The real meat of the story centers around cyber bullying, about internet shaming, about taking responsibility for the things you say and do, even when you don't necessarily believe you're wrong. These are such hot button topics right now. When things go viral, they take off in a huge, uncontrollable way. How much more devastating must it be to have this happen when you're still young and learning the ways of the world? Winter goes to a special rehab to try to shift her way of thinking and turn her life around. Everyone there has had something similar happen to them. Some of them have even contemplated or attempted suicide. When strangers are currently telling you that what you said or did was so horrible that you should just off yourself and make the world a little better by doing so, you start believing it. The novel unflinchingly showcases the realities of attempted suicide and how they may permanently impact your life if you survive, as well as giving reasons to survive and ignore the haters.
Readers won't necessarily love Winter, and that's to be expected. They may not even like her. They may be just as offended by what she said as everyone else, and as she says at the very beginning:
Before we go any further, I want to make sure you understand this: I am not a good person. If that's important to you, to only read things by good people and about good people, where all their conflicts are unfair things that happened to them despite their pluck and kindness, then you should stop reading right now. I am not the girl for you......You can stop reading now, if you want.
She doesn't take any responsibility for her own actions or attempt to understand where everyone else is coming from. She's looking for someone else to blame. She's upset that she was stripped of her Spelling Bee title. She hates that she lost her best friend. She's furious that her college admission offer was rescinded. It's all about how her life was destroyed, how not fair it is. How she didn't deserve any of this. She never stops to think about why people were hurt. It's always, "I'm sorry, BUT this is what I meant." Her journey is an important one, and a timely one as well. I can see high school teachers doing lesson plans around this book because it has so many fantastic talking points and will lead to great, thought-provoking discussion. It's also the book to hand to someone who may have said something they didn't mean or worded something inappropriately on the internet and now finds themselves in the same situation. "Here, read this. You are not the only one." Especially if it saves a life.
I think we need more books like this, from more perspectives than just a white perspective. IF YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING NICE TO SAY is a good start, but it's not perfect and definitely has issues and falls into a few bad stereotypes at times. This topic is so important and needs to be talked about. The more books with similar topics, the more likelier they are to get into schools. If we can get young people talking--whether they love or hate the book, agree or disagree--they will hopefully become more aware of their actions and the way they interact with others online. Cyber bullying is no joke, and suicide is on the rise, especially with young people. Granted, not all due to internet shaming and the vulgar things people spew. It takes many forms, and we're losing too many young lives far too soon. Books like these can save lives. They are important. These voices need to be heard, too.
IF YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING NICE TO SAY by Leila Sales was published on May 1st, 2018 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) / Macmillan.