By Heather Leighton
Melody has gone through pain, leaving her mute. Now charged with a murder she may not have committed Melody’s past comes through life through her music and court-mandated therapy sessions. Who is Melody and what has been done to her?
Published by Vesuvian Books, Speak No Evil by Liana Gardner is a young adult novel following Melody as she comes to grips with the evil done to her.
Melody Fisher has been charged with stabbing a fellow high school student who is also a football star. But she is no criminal. Through her court-mandated therapy sessions, the reader discovers that Melody, a mixed-race teen with a gift for song and a love of nature, has faced plenty of trauma in her life. After her mother dies and her father disappears, Melody lives through a series of horrible foster homes. None, however, is as treacherous as the last, at the home of the aptly named Hatchett family. The accumulated tragedy in her life has made Melody go mute.
The author has used a psychiatrist, Dr. Kane, as a plot device to tease out Melody’s past trauma. Kane coaxes Melody to talk by having her play music from her MP3 player to reveal her feelings through the lyrics and music she selects. The music theme that runs throughout is quite enjoyable. As Melody makes progress, the psychiatrist has her sing her answers to his questions in order to bring her a step closer to speaking. His questions trigger first-person recollections taking the reader back to earlier times in Melody’s life. This device works relatively well for a good part of the book, but the constant back and forth in time later saps the story’s tension, and at times makes it difficult to determine the order of events.
Melody is a wonderful, convincing character. In addition to her beautiful singing voice, she is able to see a personified manifestation of death that follows people who will soon die. Quatie Raincrow, a foster mother who really cares for Melody, is also a seer. She helps Melody understand her gift and make sense of her feelings. The teen is also able to calm both people and things with her singing, snakes in particular. The author writes with compelling skill about snake attacks and snake handling that will captivate readers. The passages where Melody cares for a blistered snake are gruesome and well-executed.
Speak No Evil is a very ambitious book with many minor characters, too many in fact, especially at the end. Readers could have done without James and Vince, a love interest and a friend who wants to be more to Melody. Neither is particularly memorable. There are really two books here: a pre-teen with special gifts who loses her parents and ends up in foster care and a story about a teen in foster care who negotiates daily life in the midst of lurking predators. In both scenarios, there is enough trauma to render someone mute and in need of a good therapist.
In the end, there is too much going on in this book, which detracts from its strengths: Melody’s character and gifts, the theme of music and the initial use of the psychiatrist plot device.
Heather, book blogger at the Unexpected Twists and Turns
Heather has reviewed books for the Globe and Mail, the Montreal Review of Books and online lit hubs.