Book Review of Say It Out Loud

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I’m a fan of literature in general, but because my focus is learning to write books for middle-grades, I’ve spent much more time reading books for that age in the past year. I don’t often blog about other books unless I feel one falls into the must-read category. I decided to take a flier on Say It Out Loud by Allison Varnes https://www.amazon.com/Say-Out-Loud-Allison-Varnes/dp/152477152X after reading a review by writer/blogger Rosi Hollinbeck on her blog. https://rosihollinbeck.com/blog/

While I taught, I often looked for children’s books that embedded real-life lessons about kids in an entertaining and captivating manner. This excellent book, published in 2021, falls into that category of books that would have become an annual read with my class.

Charlotte Andrews and her best friend, Maddie, are anxious about starting middle school. The two are inseparable pals and find comfort in knowing they are beginning a new experience with a trusted friend. Much of Charlotte’s anxiety has to do with self-consciousness about her stuttering—a condition that appears more often whenever she is nervous. She wants to be a normal kid—not one pulled out of class by a speech teacher for being different. Charlotte’s stuttering is a non-issue for Maddie, who doesn’t think her friend’s speech is something to feel shame over.

When the girls are riding on the bus for their first day of sixth grade, they witness two bullies, Tristan and Ben, looking for kids to pick on. Maddie decides she will put a stop to something she knows is wrong. While Charlotte knows Maddie is a good citizen, she fears that the bullies may come after them if the girls report the boys’ misdeeds.

Maddie decides to do exactly that, and many kids, including Charlotte, are called to the principal to describe what they saw on the bus. Tristan and Ben, already sitting in the office, deduce that the girls are the ones who must have told on them. Unfortunately, not enough students come forward to verify Maddie’s report, and the boys turn their bullying on Charlotte and Maddie.

One day, without thinking of the repercussions, Charlotte decides to sit away from Maddie on the bus, and the boys harass Maddie to no end, bringing her to tears. Not only is Maddie devastated by the bullying, but even more hurt that her friend has left her to fend for herself. Charlotte immediately regrets her decision, but Maddie is so hurt she wants nothing to do with Charlotte anymore.

Charlotte tries to make things right the next day by apologizing to her friend and sitting with her, but Maddie isn’t having any of it. As the year transpires, Charlotte begins to make new friends after joining an after-school club to put on a musical theater production of The Wizard of Oz. Charlotte doesn’t stutter when singing and feels alive and good about herself, finding the courage to try out for the role of Glinda, the good witch. While Charlotte doesn’t get the part, she earns a minor role in the play. She misses her friend and attempts several times to find her voice to get Maddie to accept her apology.

Charlotte is encouraged by her English teacher and play director, Mrs. Harper, to find her voice for writing and life matters. Charlotte begins leaving positive notes anonymously for other kids in the school, often signing them—The Biggest Chicken at Carol Burnett Middle. She witnesses the effect that her positive thoughts have on others’ attitudes. She even goes as far as leaving Tristan, the bully, a compliment when she sees him struggling with a problem. While Charlotte’s words don’t influence everyone, they seem to make a difference for some kids. Positive notes written by other children begin popping up on campus as Charlotte’s big idea grows.

When Charlotte learns that the school board may discontinue the musical theater group the following year to concentrate on raising reading test scores, she organizes a letter-writing campaign toward all the influential people they can think of to try and save the program. I don’t want to spoil the ending of this excellent novel, but I will say it was not a predictable conclusion.  

Varnes does a masterful job of creating believable characters, dealing with real-life problems that middle-school children can relate to. There were so many valuable takeaways for kids to learn from this book. The overriding lesson is that it takes courage to speak up when you see something wrong, even when that choice may fly in the face of those who are more popular or influential.

I offer my congratulations to Allison Varnes for writing a book that matters. https://www.amazon.com/Say-Out-Loud-Allison-Varnes/dp/152477152X In my opinion, it is precisely the kind of literature that children need to read more because it deals with the things that many of them experience daily. I’m sure that many children, particularly in grades 4-7, would love this book.

53 thoughts on “Book Review of Say It Out Loud

  1. This sounds like a great book with very valuable lessons for middle schoolers and others. I would have really enjoyed it. I wonder if it will be a series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:29 am

      It feels more like a stand-a-lone to me, but it is the type of book that could easily have a sequel. Charlotte and Maddie remind me of many students I taught who had personal problems but managed to work through their issues because they both still wanted to be friends.

      Like

  2. I get that this book is targeted towards kids, but I couldn’t help but imagine how it feels for two of my colleagues that have intense stutters. One was the CEO and one is my boss… it took a while getting used to hearing them speak and focus on the context than what they were stuttering…. Good on Charlotte for standing up for what adds value to her!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:25 am

      I always wonder how authors choose their subjects. I’m guessing the author has had some experiences or knows of someone experiencing many of these challenges. The aspect of internal struggles always captures my attention because it is one that we as humans constantly wrestle with. Knowing that someone has overcome any type of problem can be a huge inspiration for others, even if they aren’t going through the same thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A wonderful story full of lessons for life. Here is to its great success.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:33 am

      I’m getting in on the ground floor with this author. This story spoke to me not from the stuttering angle but from the notion of having the heart to overcome personal challenges while navigating middle school difficulties.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. it sounds like a wonderful book, with a well-written story, that many kids should read and learn from.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:37 am

      One of the reasons it appealed to me so much, Beth, is because it is the type of book I want to write. While I know that fantasy books are the rage with children these days, I want to write contemporary stories about children dealing with the challenges of being a kid.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. we need more books like that

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Bullying is an insidious thing carried through to adult life and hard to break because realistically calling out bullies results in being targeted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:40 am

      The author handled the topic beautifully, showing how many people can’t summon the courage to speak out even when they know something is wrong. Sometimes being an inactive spectator is just as bad as the harmful act one witnesses.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It sounds as though this book deals with a lot of school issues. The bullying in particuar is so distressing–but, then again, we’ve become a nation of bullies.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:43 am

      One aspect that felt right on the money was the interpersonal relationships among kids as they fall into well-established roles. Breaking away from the norm and finding one’s voice takes courage when someone else wields such power and influence.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s for sure. Particuarly at that age.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This sounds like an exceptional book, that would benefit many children. I got hooked just from reading your review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:45 am

      That’s what happened to me when I read Rosi’s review. I wasn’t a bullied child, but I could identify with the challenges of finding my voice, which didn’t happen until I became an adult and felt a responsibility to be that person for my students.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s wonderful to hear of a MR book that focuses on real-life situations instead of fantasy. I will definitely look for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:50 am

      One of the guiding principles of writing is to write what we know. I connect with books that deal with contemporary problems rather than those in the world of fantasies. As I read, I kept thinking this is precisely the type of story I want to write.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Books like Wonder carry such impact. We also need stories such as A Wrinkle in Time to spark the imagination. Writing what you know and stepping just tad out of our comfort zone fills library shelves and young minds. Here’s to stretching our writing goals, Pete!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Pete, this is an outstanding book review. I was glued to your post and wanted to know the conclusion. I’ll gladly read the book! These are the stories children need to read. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:54 am

      I’m not surprised that you identified with the book, given that we teachers always look for stories that will connect with kids on a personal level. Literature like this connects with just about any age because we know how hard it can be to overcome our inner struggles.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re exactly right, Pete. These are the books that connect with kids. I can picture you reading this book aloud to a group at the library. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for sharing your terrific review, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:56 am

      My pleasure, John. I rarely do reviews, but this one got my attention because I imagine many others (not just kids) will be able to relate.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What a beautiful idea to leave anonymous positive notes. I love that! Middle school can be brutal and I have a granddaughter who is in her first year. She’s definitely already witnessed some bullying, but so far, thank goodness, it hasn’t been focused on her. Thank you for sharing this beautiful book. I’m going to purchase it for my Sydney! Happy New Year, Pete!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 8:59 am

      So many kids are like your Sydney and may not be the victim of bullying but are witnesses to lousy behavior and unsure how to address such situations. We can all identify with sometimes needing a friend to lift us up.

      Like

  12. sounds like a wonderful book; I love the idea of leaving anonymous positive notes…

    best wishes for a productive and Happy New Year, Pete. Look forward to reading your new book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 11:55 am

      Thank you, Jim. I’m in this for the long haul, but you might have to wait a bit until I decide to publish. After sending out a series of queries, I’ve collected my share of rejections. I’ve pulled back and am revising again in hopes of finding someone to believe in my project. In the meantime, I’m continuing to write my second book and have now started a humor book for adults on the side. I’m all over the map, but I love having the freedom to go down these rabbit holes. It’s funny because I’m feeling more passionate instead of more discouraged. We Springers are not known for giving up easily.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My guess is that publishers are hesitatnt to take a chance on a new author, even when the quality is better than what some established authors are putting out there. Perseverance is a good trait to have. It sounds like you have turned into a writing machine!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. petespringerauthor December 30, 2021 — 9:27 am

        I may have mentioned this to you already (one of the downsides to aging is I can’t remember who I’ve told things to), but I recently read a stat that said only 1 in 3,000 people who try to get published succeed. I knew the odds were long, but that’s a bit discouraging. Oh well, I always like a challenge.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. that seems like such a small number; thankfully, there is always the self-publishing option.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. You are smart to read books in the genre and age group you are aiming for in your own writing. I read tons of memoir before I wrote my own.

    I have a 14-year-old grand + 3 high schoolers, so I’ll take a pass. The cover, I must say, begs to be opened. Thanks, Pete. And Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 12:01 pm

      The learning curve is steep, Marian, but I also am the type of person who likes to learn. If it never happens for me, it’s not going to be because of a lack of trying.

      I’d be interested in learning a little more about your route to publishing Mennonite Daughter. Did you find a publisher or self-publish? I suspect that we share similar philosophies about writing and don’t want to put our name on anything but our best work.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Pete. I did a sort of hybrid approach with my publishing, engaging 1106Design.com to help with editing, layout, and the fine points of a Library of Congress listing, ISBN number, and creating an e-book, etc. My husband designed the cover, restored photos and did original artwork.

        I wrote about my writing process in sixteen blog posts; here are two: https://marianbeaman.com/2017/10/11/memoir-writing-myth-mystery-search-narrative-arc/ and https://marianbeaman.com/2018/09/26/what-editing-looks-like-memoir-update/
        You are kind to ask and I’m always happy to share. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. petespringerauthor December 30, 2021 — 8:57 pm

        How great to have a talented and supportive husband! Thanks for sharing your two posts. I enjoyed reading about your process and left comments on your site. It’s kind of cool to get comments three and four years after the posts. It’s so great that you got to the finish line with your project, Marian. I feel like I’ve been on a conveyor belt or treadmill. Whenever I think I’m getting close, I find something else to tweak.

        Like

  14. Sounds like a great book but I am left to wonder about Maddie just because that is what I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 12:06 pm

      Life turns out well for Charlotte and Maddie, but I thought the ending was realistic. I don’t mind a happy ending, but it has to be done believably instead of and “they all lived happily ever after” style.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Wonderful review. I’m so pleased you liked the book so much. Thanks for the shoutout.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 5:55 pm

      Middle school can be a minefield for children, and it’s so important that kids develop self-esteem and confidence. I loved watching Charlotte find her voice.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Sounds like the perfect book for this age group! I have to say that I really don’t miss this time in my life, but it was a time when a good book was the best friend I could have!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 29, 2021 — 7:04 pm

      Middle school is a challenging time for a lot of kids. Many feel insecure and awkward, and some children can be pretty brutal to one another at this age. I moved to California when I was starting high school, a time in my life that I consider perhaps the most difficult.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. These are the types of book I want Charlotte (my Charlotte :)) to read! She already reads lots of books now (age appropriate) about feelings (hers and others) so this is a great upgrade when she gets to that age. Thanks for the great review and recommendation, Pete! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor December 30, 2021 — 9:05 pm

      One of the reasons this book appealed to me so much is because it is precisely the type of book I want to write. Writing books that are entertaining while also subtly embedding lessons is my goal. Somewhere along the line, I realized that this is just a different way for me to teach. I was blessed with a fair amount of determination and heart, which I seem to be calling on a lot these days. This is a relatively new author. She had one prior book which I’m going to check out soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. If I ever read a book intended for middle school readers while in that age group, I don’t recall. Won’t be doing it now, for sure. But you have posted a good review for those who write or share that genre, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 3, 2022 — 2:48 pm

      That’s part of the beauty of reading, John. Something for everybody. I hope you’re well. We’re having one of our old-fashioned wet winters. After so many drought years and wildfires, we’re relieved to get all the rain.

      Like

  19. Nothing better than a book that teaches good things and lessons, and your review sounds like this book really hits all the marks. Thanks Pete. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I too read quite a few middle-grade novels. This one sounds very good and timely. One I read recently that impressed me was The King of Jam Sandwiches by Eric Walters. Eric is a prolific middle-grade writer. This one was excellent as it tackles living with a parent suffering from mental illness. You might want to check it out. Thanks for the great review of Say it Out Loud.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 9, 2022 — 6:56 pm

      Thanks so much for the suggestion, Darlene. I will definitely take a look. I don’t think there are enough books for this age level that deal with mental illness.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Sounds like a wonderful book, Pete. Thanks for your review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 26, 2022 — 8:37 am

      I’ve been reading many middle-grade books lately and am trying to soak up all the knowledge I can.

      Like

      1. There’s so much to learn, isn’t there? I’d like a few more lifetimes and I think it still wouldn’t be enough. I guess I can’t be greedy. Others want a share too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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