I want to start my review of Finding a Voice the usual way, with a bit of a plot summary, but I’m afraid it might put you off. It sounds like an ‘issues’ book and, I don’t know about you, but that pretty much always puts me off. So let me get it out in the open before I start: Finding a Voice is about mental illness and physical disability and being isolated. And now I’ve told you this, forget it.
Finding a Voice is about Jo who longs more than anything for a friend, but is afraid to make friends. Her mother’s mental illness rules Jo’s life and cuts her off from her peers at school. Given the chance to run away from the discomfort of school lunchtime, Jo finds herself immersed in a part of school she previously knew nothing about: the special education unit. There she meets Chris, a severely disabled boy who is apparently unable to communicate. As she helps Chris with his food, Jo pours her heart out to him. None of his carers think Chris can understand much of what is said to him, but Jo begins to think they are wrong. She sets out to help Chris to communicate.
I had a few doubts about how realistic some of the plot was. I doubted that all the carers and educators would have totally given up on communicating with Chris; I doubted how quickly he would pick up communicating having never done it before, I doubted Jo would get so far with Chris in his wheelchair before someone stopped them and that she would be able to push it off-road at all. Did any of this matter? Not really. While I was reading, I had no trouble suspending disbelief, it was only later that I wondered. Jo and Chris’s story was engrossing, fast-paced and thoughtful, not an easy combination to master. So many young adult books find their drama either in fantasy adventure or in the internal wrangling of one character’s views of themselves and their interactions with the world. Here, Kim Hood gives us another type of story, a story of a teen looking outside herself and finding a place for herself in the world.
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2015