Amy’s cerebral palsy requires her to use a walker and communicate with a voice box, and she’s always had an adult aide at school. But now, during her senior year, she wants to hire peer aides: Including a classmate named Matthew, who turns out to have OCD. Multiple reviews—as well as the description at Amazon—compare to this one to The Fault in Our Stars, because apparently any romance featuring characters with disabilities has to be compared to The Fault in Our Stars. But here’s a major, vital difference: THIS IS NOT A TRAGEDY. So count me in for sure.
Now that I’ve read it, I’m so happy to report that it didn’t just meet my expectations, it EXCEEDED them. It made me laugh out loud, it made me get all sniffly, and then it made me laugh again. It’s a sweet, warm, thoughtful, entirely satisfying story about friendship, trust and love.
Things I loved about it:
Matthew finds Amy attractive just as she is. He doesn’t “see beyond” her condition to her pure soul or beautiful eyes or anything similarly vomit-inducing: he thought she was attractive before they even got to know each other. Love stories that celebrate differences, rather than portray them as something to “get past” are rarer than they should be.
The story isn’t only about their relationship. Amy and Matthew have lives and interests beyond and apart from each other. Their relationship is intensely, deeply important, but it isn’t the only concern in their lives, and neither character makes all of his or her decisions with the other person in mind.
They are real, flawed people who make a lot of mistakes. Each is guilty at some point of taking the other for granted, of deeply hurting the other, and on the flip side, neither character lets that behavior slide: Amy calls Matthew on his crap, and vice-versa. They both have weaknesses, but neither one is weak—there is a balance of power, and they are equals.
No one is evil. There are jerks, peers are insensitive, parents are overbearing, teachers make unfair assumptions…but they’re all PEOPLE, with nary a cardboard-cutout villain in sight.
Despite all of the comparisons to The Fault in Our Stars, the two books have very little in common. Which means that I won’t have any trouble handing it over to readers who’re suffering from TFiOS-overload (believe it or not, they do exist). Sure, they’re both well-written, thoughtful contemporary love stories starring characters who have disabilities—but even beyond the fact that Say What You Will isn’t a tragedy, the stories’ arcs and tones are entirely different. Gus starts flirting with Hazel from the get-go; Matthew and Amy become close friends before romantic love is ever a factor. Despite the raw emotions that TFiOS evokes, Hazel and Gus (quite understandably) hide a lot of their more difficult feelings—fear, grief, anger—behind their banter, snark and Capital-L Literary conversations. Say What You Will’s Amy and Matthew try to avoid some hard conversations, for sure… but when they do finally have them, each time, there’s no hiding—behind five-dollar words, metaphors or anything else.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.