Things You Can't Say by Jenn Bishop

Happy Wednesday! Author Jenn Bishop dropped by to celebrate Julie McLaughlin's eye-catching cover illustration for Things You Can't Say. I wrote the words in purple, and Jenn wrote the words in black. Thank you, Jenn!  

Julie McLaughlin’s cover illustration for Things You Can’t Say gorgeously illustrates Drew’s perceived distance from his peers. As a result of his father’s suicide, which takes place three years before the book begins, Drew thinks no one can ever really understand him. He feels different from every other kid his age. 

Things You Can’t Say tells the story of twelve-year-old Drew, who spends his summer weekdays in the children’s room of the local public library, helping out the children’s librarian. Everything changes this summer with the arrival of Audrey. Not only is Audrey new to town and forced to help out in the children’s room alongside Drew, she’s afraid of little kids! And she and Drew don’t exactly hit it off at first. But when Phil, a mysterious man on a motorcycle, rolls into town and stays briefly with Drew’s family, Audrey is the one Drew chooses to confide in. Could Phil be his real dad? In their unsupervised moments at the library, the two of them work together to get to the bottom of who Phil really is and what that means for Drew. 

Drew is the first male protagonist I’ve ever written. Since I’ve never myself experienced life as a twelve-year-old boy, this meant lots of false starts, research, and plenty of revision. I have more than a dozen drafts saved on my computer. You wouldn’t believe what used to be in this book, including a seahorse birth and a house burning down in an accidental fire.

I hope Things You Can’t Say is helpful for kids who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. Though there are a couple exceptions, there still are very few middle grade books that touch on this topic. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and many children are left in its wake. While there have been larger public conversations on mental health recently, there still remains a stigma around suicide. Many people simply don’t know what to say to someone who’s lost a close friend or family member to suicide. But as Drew and those close to him discover, it’s better to talk about it than to stay quiet, even if there’s no right thing to say. 

School librarians are amazing. As a former teen librarian, and now as an author, I am forever in awe of what school librarians do to promote literacy and a love of reading in their communities. School libraries are cherished safe spaces in schools all over the country, and that’s because of the hard work and commitment of school librarians. Every school deserves a librarian. (Or two or three...)

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the hijinks that transpired when I was a teen working as an assistant in the children’s room of my local public library. (Shout out to Joshua Hyde Public Library in Sturbridge, MA!) Rumor has it that a fake child named “Surkitty” was enrolled in the summer reading program that summer, all so that a certain friend of mine could win a train whistle. 

Look for Things You Can't Say on March 3, 2020. 

Nothing is going right this summer for Drew. And after losing his dad unexpectedly three years ago, Drew knows a lot about things not going right. First, it’s the new girl Audrey taking over everything at the library, Drew’s sacred space. Then it’s his best friend, Filipe, pulling away from him. But most upsetting has to be the mysterious man who is suddenly staying with Drew’s family. An old friend of Mom’s? Drew isn’t buying that.

With an unlikely ally in Audrey, he’s determined to get to the bottom of who this man really is. The thing is, there are some fears—like what if the person you thought was your dad actually wasn’t—that you can’t speak out loud, not to anyone. At least that’s what Drew thinks.

But then again, first impressions can be deceiving.


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