Ethan’s Voice by Rachel Carter
I know we’re not supposed to think this but really, how pretty is this cover?!
This is the story of Ethan, who lives on a canal boat with his mum and dad and hasn’t spoken for years. He doesn’t go to school after a spate of bullying for his lack of voice, and his mum now homeschools him. Then one day, Ethan’s calm happy days are rocked by two new events. First, his parents want him to go back to school, and two, Polly arrives.
This is one of those really understated novels that doesn’t sound like much when you read the synopsis but really gets to you when you actually read them. You get inside Ethan’s head and really come to understand his almost panic at being forced to speak or reveal himself in any way. I know I can share in that feeling, and I’m pretty sure there were kids in the classes I taught when I was still teaching that felt that way too. That desperation to not be noticed, to be left alone, to not be pushed into doing something you really fear being mocked for – loads of people have experience of that. Every time Ethan decides not to reveal something to Polly is completely understandable, and yet you find yourself doing mental high fives whenever he plucks up the courage to reveal something of himself to her. It’s so easy to get behind him, which is pretty amazing when you consider that the book is only about 170 pages long. That’s not much time to root for him as much as you do!
All this talk of not wanting to reveal yourself sounds dreadfully dreary but it’s not like that, this is actually a pretty uplifting story. It’s not about being shoved into the spotlight, it’s about finding a friend to make that spotlight less scary. Polly is that friend for Ethan, and her interest and complete acceptance of him is just lovely to read. It doesn’t matter that Ethan doesn’t speak, Polly will fill in the gaps and know what he means. Polly likes the same things Ethan does, and Ethan is the one who shows her new things on the canal. In return, Ethan’s the one who comforts Polly when she thinks about her dad, who she and her mum have temporarily left to come and live on the river. In the meantime though, it’s Polly who sparks the breakthrough that is Ethan using a notebook to ‘speak’. Polly listens and Ethan shows; it’s a lovely give-and-take friendship.
The big mystery of course is how Ethan lost his voice in the first place, and that’s the question Polly and Ethan decide to tackle together. It all starts with Ethan’s decision to show Polly his old treehouse and some half-remembered traumatic memories he doesn’t even know he has. From that point on, the book really gathers speed and your head almost spins along with Ethan’s as he and Polly uncover new clues to the puzzle of the treehouse, Ethan’s dad and the mysterious swearing boy with the freckles. It’s almost a surprise when you realise you’ve finished the book, it whirls you away so quickly.
A really lovely, quiet, understated story about friendship, differences and understanding. I completely understand why this was compared to Mark Haddon in my proof. A very satisfying read.
Find it here