Quill and Quire

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The Color of Silence

by Liane Shaw

Liane Shaw’s poetic novel of grief and friendship examines the vast difference between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. 

Wallowing in self-hatred following the accidental death of her best friend, 17-year-old Alex stops talking, her self-imposed silence a manifestation of bottled-up grief and guilt. When Alex is ordered to do 200 hours of community service for her part in the car accident that took her friend’s life, she finds herself working in a hospital with Joanie, a girl her age who is severely disabled and physically unable to speak. With nothing to occupy her other than a colourful gem necklace hanging over her bed, Joanie entertains herself with positive memories of school and a boy she once had a crush on.

Told from alternating points of view, the book nicely balances the girls’ perspectives by playing with their perceptions of reality, such as their initial reactions to one another and to hospital staff, showing that much of what they experience actually arises from their senses of self. 

The characters sometimes get lost in their inner monologues, and the didactic explanation of the computerized speech technology used by Joanie detracts from the lyrical prose. But Shaw’s attention to detail in describing Joanie’s heightened awareness of her body and surroundings makes this an excellent resource for educators looking for a book focusing on a character with special needs.

Shaw also carefully integrates themes of colour, music, and the power of words, creating a narrative that plays off an interesting tension between Joanie’s forced silence and Alex’s voluntary one, and imbuing the story with lingering emotional resonance.