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All The Things We Didn't Say - Sara Shepard

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2 Reviews

Author: Sara Shepard / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 29 October 2009 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers / Title: All The Things We Didn't Say / ISBN 13: 9780007304486 / ISBN 10: 0007304486

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    2 Reviews
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      14.01.2011 10:24
      Very helpful



      A book that is definitely not to be judged by it's cover!

      I bought this book in the works as part of a 3 for £5 offer and this was really the third book to make up the three as I saw two I really wanted and of course since this worked out £1 as on their own each book was £1.99 it would be silly of me to refuse a book for that much! I liked the sound of this because of the blurb on the back which made the story seem intriguing. I took it away with me on my work trip but, only managed to finish it after I got back because of how busy and tired I was too actually do any reading!

      The author:
      I had never heard of this author before picking this book up but, it seems she has written other books before this one all for young adults. She is an American author who lives in Philadelphia.

      The plot:
      Summer Davis believes our genes define everything about us and that by discovering the tiniest detail will help her understand why her mum left, why her dad can't help being crazy and that we are all destined to do what our genes are made up to do. Her dad harbours a terrible secret from his childhood and when her mother left it leaves Summer confused and wanting to protect and help her dad even more. Her brother has his own problems too and when he leaves for college and then moves across the country it leaves Summer feeling like she is the one needing to look after the remaining family she has. Will she ever be able to truly understand her fathers past and see that it doesn't have to ruin the rest of her life too?

      Summer is our main character and the story is told from her point of view throughout the whole book except for the odd snatch of a piece written by her father in letter form and a small section that kicks the book off. I think she is a very well developed character as the author really brings her to life in the way she uses her thoughts and feelings in the book to draw the reader in. It is interesting to see how she sometimes uses situations and acts in a way that most would be baffled by but, the author gives us Summers inner feelings so that we as the reader, can see why she is acting this way and understand her better.
      Summers father, Richard is a huge part of the storyline and when we begin the book we immediately are thrown in to his secret and so I found this to make the book even more interesting, as we of course, know what has plagued him for all these years and yet Summer doesn't. The way the author has written about him makes me think she has done a lot of research on different mental illnesses as he is a very prominent character and is interesting to read about too.

      This book was priced at £1.99 in the works but, as I bought it as part of a 3 for £5 offer it really worked out at £1.66 which for a brand new book is a total bargain! If you don't have one of the stores near you then you can always try auction sites or of course you can always just rent a copy from the library.

      Overall opinion:
      This book was slightly different to most of the chick lit genre that I read - I am not sure if it would still come under this as it was definitely not all harts and flowers type of book. The blurb on the back does indicate that it won't be quite so light reading but, I don't think this is fully made aware until start reading and realise that is it actually dealing with some difficult subjects like death, mental illness and broken families. This isn't to say the book isn't good and in fact now that I have finished it, I can honestly say that actually I did quite enjoy it.
      The book is broken down into different sections - each section has chapters but, the various sections, of which there are 5, are jumps along in years. I think this was actually a very good way to write the story as it allows the author to move along and advance the story in the relevant ways and to then show how events around this time have effected everyone and especially our main character, Summer.
      Overall this book is not one you should expect the usual chick lit type of plot from but, even though it does deal with difficult subjects I still found it to be enjoyable and although at first it took me a about 5 or 6 chapters to really get into it, I think this might have been because I just didn't have time to sit and read as much in one go as I would have liked. However once the book got going I really wanted to keep reading and find out what happened so for this element I would recommend the book


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        07.04.2010 15:43
        Very helpful



        A bit of a slog to finish means I don't recommend it

        I actually requested this book from the publisher, so the storyline clearly intrigued me at the time, but when I finally received it my first impressions were not promising. Several reviewers have commented on the 'chick-lit' style of the front cover; this is misleading as the storyline is a lot more sombre than the whimsical jacket might suggest. (Of course, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but everyone does at least some of the time, so it seems like a bad idea to make the book out to be something that it isn't.) I squirmed when I read the overly dramatic tagline: 'All families have secrets but this is one that could destroy everything...' What on earth had led me to request this odd novel? I had promised to review it so, slightly reluctantly, I settled down to read this 'compelling story' (aren't stories always compelling, according to their blurbs? No blurb ever encourages you to read 'this sleep-inducing novel' - unless perhaps it is a 'how to sleep' manual).

        == The premise ==

        After a teenage party, there is a terrible accident. A girl dies and a boy feels forced to leave his home town carrying an overwhelming secret. Years later, Summer struggles to live a normal life after being abandoned by her mother and left by her brother to support a father who suffers from mental illness - apparently because he is haunted by a terrible secret. (Made the connection yet? The publishers kindly save you a bit of thinking time by making the connection blindingly obvious in the blurb. Who wants to think for themselves, eh?) This much is clear from the book jacket. Summer wants to become a geneticist, convinced as she is by an odd encounter in her youth that our genes determine everything about us. She also has a friend/ not friend called Claire, who is basically there to show that Summer chooses to be miserable. The novel follows Sumer from the ages of 14 to 24, showing how her adult behaviour is influenced by her childhood.

        == The opening(s) and structure ==

        The novel opens abruptly as a first person narrator addresses a 'you' and briefly outlines a relationship between them, including its traumatic termination. It is easy enough to guess who this unidentified narrator is as he seems to be institutionalised somewhere and reflecting on a long distant past. Furthermore, the story outlined relates very clearly to the situation sketched in the blurb. This short chapter was easy to read but it was difficult to care about the characters within as the story is told so quickly that it barely made sense in places. Abruptly, the tale ends on what should be a sad note; however, it is expressed so colloquially that it had little impact on me - much like the rest of the chapter. I assume that the writer meant to build up a bit of suspense by not naming characters and leaving parts of the story underdeveloped, but it just made the whole opening a bit fuzzy for me and I felt that, if anything, it made me less interested in reading the book as a whole because I didn't actually care who these characters were.

        Although there is no heading, that brief tale is clearly the prologue and therefore we are meant to regard this background as significant in relation to the story we are about to read. It is quite a jolt therefore to shift to a different first person narrator as the first 'proper' chapter opens. This narration is initially even more confusing: the first page states that 'she'd been away for just a few days', moves on to Mr Rice, shifts to DNA, and then to aliens faster than my understanding could. Again, I imagine that I was meant to be intrigued, albeit slightly off-balance, but in actuality I was irritated, lost in a sea of references that meant little to me. (Of course, this could be a reflection on my own skills rather than the book's shortcomings!) It quickly becomes clear that this is a highly significant moment in Summer's life, as it meshes perfectly with her concerns at that moment. The fact that Mr Rice is a wee bit mad (he is never seen again after drawing a spaceship, with an alien's head poking out, on the board in Summer's science class) does not deter her from clinging to his theory that 'you're tethered to your parents for life'. This notion has such a powerful effect on her because the 'she' referred to in the first line is Summer's mother, who has coldly abandoned her whole family after losing patience with her husband's odd behaviour. I found it believable at this point in the novel that a young girl would cling to this idea in the hope that her mother would have to return, but I didn't believe that it would continue to exert such a powerful force over her later in life, especially since she actually studies genetics in depth. This meant that I found Summer's obsession, and therefore her as a character to a certain extent, unconvincing.

        This pattern is repeated throughout the book. After every few chapters there is a new front page which gives us a date and a place. The date is always several years later and the place is always different. Each time, we are confused for a page or two until some explanation of the missing years in-between is given. I found this an uncomfortable way to read as I was always a step behind. It was particularly odd since Sumer showed no signs of developing as a character as the years went by. She simply continued to exist with her fourteen year old concerns, feelings and interests. The large shifts in time seemed designed to illuminate this and also to give us the chance to learn about new characters or revisit old ones and see how they have changed, moving on where Summer doesn't. Despite recognising the logic behind it, I didn't like all the shifting about and found many of the details required to set up each new time period dull.

        == Recurring characters ==

        As the novel continues, there are four key characters who return to counterpoint Summer's life in some way. Her cousin Samantha distances herself from her old relations to carve out a life of her own. Her brother Steven manages to put the past behind him and seems to function as a normal human being. Her friend Claire gets on with life, despite some unlucky breaks. Although Summer resents each of these characters, and tries to draw them back into the past, they regard her efforts as a kind of poison and keep their distance. Claire, in particular, appears to exist as a contrast to and lesson for Summer. This means that these characters seem one dimensional and to lack a stable personality. Unlike Summer, they do change - often completely - between sections of the book and this meant that I was unable to like or empathise with them. Finally, Philip, a boy whom Summer shared one kiss with as a child, returns at the end of the book in an unbelievable twist which seems to justify Summer's constant leaning towards the past. I felt particularly irritated by this storyline as it seemed completely unbelievable. Again, the way the narrative jumps forward and leaves out huge gaps does not help. I did not care about any of these characters, which I feel was largely due to the narrative structure of the book.

        == The secret ==

        The pressure the secret exerts on Richard, Summer's father, is obvious, but it is less clear whether it deserves the prominence it is given in the prologue and the blurb. Richard suffers from depression, which becomes clearer and clearer as the novel develops. Whilst it is possible that everything which happens to him relates back to this one traumatic event, there are hints that he was always prone to unhappiness, even as a child. Regardless, Summer's behaviour is surely caused by the weight of becoming a mother figure to her own father and the crushing disappointment of feeling 'not good enough' for her mother to want to know her, not by the 'horrific' secret. Leaving the issues of cause and effect behind, I felt that the interaction between Summer and her father was the most convincing aspect of the novel. As a daughter, I empathised with Summer's frustrations and her longing to be a 'good' daughter. Psychologically, it was also convincing that these efforts would have intensified after being abandoned by her mother. The scenes where Summer and her father interact were really what made the book bearable for me as they had so much reality.

        The actual secret itself is guessable fairly early on, although I did cheat by glancing ahead! (I was bored and wanted to know if the story was heading somewhere worthwhile.) Although I suppose it is shocking, I cannot for one moment see what revealing it could destroy. If anything, it could help Summer to understand her father. (Alright, I'll stop criticising the blurb now.) Revealing it is meant to be the summit of the book, but in actual fact it seems to be her relationships with the recurring characters that ultimately make an impact on Summer and suggest, tentatively, that she might be able to move forward with her life. The novel ends on a qualified note of hope, although it seems mild after a novel drenched in sadness and the weight of the past. How did the ending affect me? In all honesty I was mostly relieved that it was over.

        == Conclusions ==

        The notion that childhood affects adolescence and adulthood is hardly new or surprising, but I did think that it could be interesting to read about. Unfortunately, Summer doesn't actually develop in the ten years covered by the book: she stands still. Characters around her change and develop, but she seems frozen in time. This rather undermines the dramatic importance given to the secret in the blurb, as it is not a family secret that has destroyed her ability to grow and change, but the abrupt disappearance of her mother and the illness endured by her father. The jerky jumps in the narrative made this an uncomfortable read and seemed to unnecessarily prolong the ending. Did we really need to see each stage of Summer's life? I suspect a beginning and end would have been sufficient, although possibly still not interesting. It is rare for me to dislike a book, but I really can't see myself ever wanting to read this again. I think that there are some strengths, such as the realistic depiction of relationships with family members, but these are lost under the sheer weight of misery and unnecessary plot. Sadly, I just didn't enjoy it. This is the author's first offering for an adult audience, so it may be that she's still finding her feet a little, but I'm definitely going to be more careful selecting books to request in future!


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