Stella is a vivacious teen with a deep yearning to become an accomplished Broadway musical star. Her dreams are shattered when a freak accident renders her deaf. Struggling mightily to communicate in a world of total silence, she meets Hayden who has such a pronounced stutter she can easily read his lips because he speaks so slowly. Communication leads to connection and an unexpected romance as they learn from each other and discover their own ways to overcome setbacks, find renewed purpose and recognize their true voice.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It’s easy to sympathize with Stella as she copes with moving to a new school and making new friends. Landing the lead in the school’s musical makes her finally feel like she belongs. But then she’s thrown back into uncertainty when the accident takes from her the one thing that she believes makes her unique.
Hayden has never belonged, but Stella’s accident makes her approachable. He makes it his mission to show her that life doesn’t have to be heard to be enjoyed.
The activities that they share are fun and creative. There were some good ideas there for guys who want to take a girl on a date and are tired of just “hanging out.” The romance that develops between the two is sweet.
The author uses a fragmented style of writing that is popular these days, but it began to wear on me by the last part of the book. I also felt that the story was a little overwrought. However, I don’t think either of these two things would bother young adults, the author’s target audience. Teens have heightened emotions, and so I think the narrative would ring true to them.
I recommend this book to young adults who enjoy a good contemporary romance.
Q: Silence is a YA romance with a strong theme developing from the budding love relationship of “mindfulness” and finding the “power in now.” It’s an unusual perspective for this genre. Why was it an important theme for you to explore?
DL: As Hayden and Stella are falling in love, he introduces being “in the moment” to her, which is a saving grace when she’s confronted with a devastating hearing loss. Being in the moment allows them to enjoy experiences together without Stella worrying about a future she sees as limited by her deafness. But although Hayden talks about being in the moment, he’s actually often thinking ahead by worrying about losing her or haunted by the past and his abusive childhood. Stella frees herself in so many ways in this story, mindfulness being central to her accepting and then embracing the changes in her life. She learns to turn limitations into strengths. I wanted to show how someone can be really important in your life and maybe act as a guide—and a romance heightens all those feelings—but that ultimately you have to find that inner peace yourself, you have to make that choice. Stella does that.
Q: Did you draw on your own life experience in this story? If so, are you more like Stella or Hayden?
DL: People often ask authors if we project ourselves onto our characters. I don’t do that consciously while I’m writing! But in retrospect, I’d say Stella is who I am and Hayden is who I strive to be in the sense that Hayden is kind, true to himself, genuinely devoted to helping others in need, and though flawed, certainly, he gains wisdom from adversity.
Q: In the book, Hayden talks about being a bystander in life, not a participant. Stella’s accident renders her unable to fulfill her dream of becoming a Broadway star and steals her life’s purpose. Young adults now have “online lives” in social media that can take up more time than “live” interactive experiences with people. Does that make it dangerously easy for young people to become bystanders in life if they’re not careful?
DL: Yes, it’s amazing how many young people—and adults—have their heads buried in their phones! That participating in non-stop social media is all about the public mask and can be a crutch, making people less comfortable in social interactions and therefore more avoidant of them.
Before I became a writer, I had a long career as an actor starting at age six, so I know all about “putting on the mask” and pretending to be someone else. In the beginning of the book, Stella is also an actress, popular because of her talent. She really hides behind her singing persona, giving voice to someone else’s words and wearing her own mask. In making Stella deaf, I didn’t focus on her impairment as a disability, rather I wanted to strip that character down, take away what she relied one, giver her a setback, an obstacle to overcome and see how she could find her way to a better place: a renewed life’s purpose, maybe more openness to deep connection and a different way of looking at being really true to herself and finding her own voice. It’s from those broken places that people grow stronger.
I wanted to use Stella and Hayden’s journey to reach out to readers who might also feel broken, to give them hope and encouragement to find their own voices.