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Perfect for fans of See You in the Cosmos and Where the Watermelons Grow, author Jenn Bishop's latest novel tells the moving story of a boy determined to uncover the truth.

Nothing is going right this summer for Drew. And after losing his dad unexpectedly three years ago, Drew knows a lot about things not going right. First, it’s the new girl Audrey taking over everything at the library, Drew’s sacred space. Then it’s his best friend, Filipe, pulling away from him. But most upsetting has to be the mysterious man who is suddenly staying with Drew’s family. An old friend of Mom’s? Drew isn’t buying that.

With an unlikely ally in Audrey, he’s determined to get to the bottom of who this man really is. The thing is, there are some fears—like what if the person you thought was your dad actually wasn’t—that you can’t speak out loud, not to anyone. At least that’s what Drew thinks.

But then again, first impressions can be deceiving.

Chapter 1 1


EVERYONE’S GOT A FAVORITE COLOR. A favorite book, band, movie. But what about a favorite sound? For me, that’s the easiest: little kids laughing. A four-year-old absolutely losing it because of something funny I just said? No better sound in the universe.

That’s the thing about little kids. They don’t know how to fake it yet. There’s nothing they’re hiding beneath the surface. No tricks, no secrets.

I’ve got my head ducked down below the library’s puppet stage in the corner of the children’s room, right by the new picture books, and I’m using my very best performer voice. “Zombie Goldilocks thought Papa Bear’s bowl of brains was too hot.” With my right hand, I make the zombified Goldilocks puppet spit out brains in every direction. “Pttew. Pttew.”

The little kids giggle. One of them maybe even snorts.

“But Mama Bear’s bowl of brains was too …” I wait for one of the kids to chime in.

“Stinky!” a girl in the front yells out—I think it’s Claire, but I can’t tell for sure with my head ducked down. The other kids around her laugh and laugh.

I stick my head up for a second and catch the children’s librarian, Mrs. Eisenberg, smiling in her rocking chair, just past the rainbow rug the kids are sitting on.

“Her brains were too stinky. Pee-yew! But then Goldilocks found Baby Bear’s bowl of brains, and it was …”

“Just! Right!” they yell out together.

Smiling makes it hard for me to do this voice, so I try super hard to keep a straight face.

Now, it’s one thing to zombify Xander’s bedtime stories. Of course my brother’s going to find it funny. But I didn’t know how well it’d work for other kids until that time last summer when Mrs. Eisenberg asked me to fill in for her. But afterward she said that if I wanted, I could do it more often. She said it showed ingenuity. Whatever. All I know is it makes the kids laugh. And that it’s the kind of thing Dad used to do for me when I was little. Of course he was good at telling stories. Wasn’t that what he was doing the whole time? Our whole lives a big fairy tale, him pretending everything was perfect—fine—when obviously it wasn’t.

There. Now the smile is gone.

“When Papa Bear came home, he saw the empty bowl. ‘Now, who ate my brains?’?”

I peek again and catch Demaris in the front row, picking his nose. I push Papa Bear out like he’s going to leap off the stage. “Was it you, Demaris?”

Demaris’s finger flies out of his nostril so fast. “Noooooo!” He giggles.

“Was it … Abigail?”

Shy Abigail’s lips are zipped.

“It was you, wasn’t it? It’s always the quiet ones. I’m onto you.”

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying different ways to get her to participate, but each time, no dice. Come on, Abigail.

“Nah,” I say. “You’re right. You’re not a fan of brains. Your favorite food is probably more like … hmm … boogers?”

“No, it’s not,” Abigail says. “It’s pizza!”

“Well then, who on earth came in here and ate all my brains?”

The kids crack up. For a second, I sort of feel for the dude. If someone barged into my house and ate all my favorite food, I’d probably be annoyed like Papa Bear too.

As I’m finishing up with “Zombie Goldilocks,” Mrs. Eisenberg mouths that she’s heading upstairs. I nod to show her I have things under control down here and reach for the Little Red Riding Hood puppet that I turned into a vampire.

“Once upon a time, there was a liiiittle vampire …” The kids stop fidgeting the second I show them Little Red with her painted-on fangs.

By the time I’m wrapping up the story, all the moms and dads and babysitters have come down with their coffees and warm cookies from the new café upstairs, ready to take their kids home for naps and lunch. I’m picking up half-scribbled-on coloring sheets left on the tables when all of a sudden I catch something out of the corner of my eye. A girl. She’s about my age, with short blond hair that ends at her chin and bright red glasses. She’s sitting at one of the tables. When’d she come down here?

I walk over to her. “If you’re looking for the teen room, it’s upstairs. You take a right past the café and it’s—”

“I’m not looking for the teen room,” she says. Her voice is quiet and it’s only when she opens her mouth that I notice how frowny it is.

I glance back at the puppet stage. Did she come in while I was doing the show? Wait—tell me she wasn’t listening when I did that insane grandma voice in Vampire Little Red Riding Hood? I’m half-ready to dart behind the puppet stage and never come out again.

The best part about the children’s room is that no one my age ever comes down here. Not since they put in the teen room upstairs and the café across from it. Down here I’m safe.

Just then the elevator door opens and out comes Mrs. Eisenberg holding a large stack of cardboard boxes that looks like it’s about to topple over. I hustle to help her before the boxes fall to the ground.

“Thanks, Drew. Always coming to my rescue.” Mrs. Eisenberg beams at me.

As we’re putting the boxes down next to her desk, Mrs. Eisenberg spies the girl who overheard my whole story-hour routine. “Oh my gosh!” She laughs. “You startled me. Audrey, right?”

The girl—Audrey, I guess—nods.

“I almost forgot all about you, Miss Audrey. I see you’ve met our Drew. He’s been helping me out in the library for the past three summers now.”

Audrey gives me a funny stare and it’s like I can read her mind. I know what she’s thinking—there’s got to be something seriously wrong with a twelve-year-old boy who chooses to hang out in the library’s children’s room all summer.

“Audrey’s going to be working with you this summer, Drew. Her family just moved to town and her mother’s up in circulation. Janet, isn’t it?”

“Yup.”

I don’t care who Audrey’s mother is upstairs. I need to rewind to hear what Mrs. Eisenberg just said. Someone else my age? Working down here? With me? For the whole summer?

“Drew, can you show Audrey how to cut out name tags so we can get ahead for the rest of the week?”

“Suuuure.”

Audrey shuffles behind me as I point out where Mrs. Eisenberg keeps all the different colors of construction paper, plus the stencils and scissors, and where she taped up a chart showing which name tags go with which theme for story hour.

“That all make sense?” I ask.

“It’s cutting out name tags,” she mutters. “Not exactly rocket science.” Under her breath she adds, “I can’t believe they stuck me in the children’s room.”

What I want to say is, no, of course it’s not the best part of helping out in the children’s room. But sometimes when the little kids have been screaming their heads off all morning and you get a few minutes of peace and quiet, it’s kind of nice just to sit and cut. It’s easy. You can’t mess it up.

But I can’t say any of that, and definitely not to someone I barely know who doesn’t exactly seem to have a great attitude, so I just shrug, grab the yellow paper and the sun stencils, and walk back over to the table where we’ll be working together until lunchtime.

A woman pushing a fussy red-faced baby in a stroller steps off the elevator.

Audrey sits down at the far side of the table from me, eyeing the baby suspiciously.

Normally I’d say hi to the mom and wave at the baby, but it feels weird to do any of those things with Audrey here. Almost like I’m being watched.

Eventually the lady grabs a few picture books and leaves just as the baby starts wailing, and for a few minutes, we snip-snip-snip in the quiet. Mrs. Eisenberg softly flips through the pages of one of her library magazines. The loudest sounds are the hum of the aquarium and that one light above the astronomy books that always buzzes even though the janitor keeps saying he’s going to fix it.

Until Audrey starts sighing—each time she cuts out a sun, she clicks on her phone to check the time. Sigh. Yawn. Click. Sigh. Yawn. Click.

If her goal is to see how slowly time can pass, she certainly figured out a solid method.

Tap-tap-tappity-tap. Mrs. Eisenberg starts typing on her computer, then groans. “Not again.”

Across from me, Audrey perks up. She sets the scissors down on the table and jogs over to Mrs. Eisenberg. “Do you need some help?”

“Any chance you’re good with computers?” Mrs. Eisenberg chuckles.

“I started the robotics club at my last school.” Audrey takes over Mrs. Eisenberg’s seat. “I think you can say I’m good with computers.”

Click-click-clickety. “Oh man. Your browsers are really out of date. Does this thing freeze all the time?”

“Depends on your definition of ‘all the time.’ I keep asking our IT lady—Ellie—to come take a look at things down here, but I’ve got to be honest with you, Audrey, we’re all working on ancient machines. Upstairs, downstairs, you name it. There’s just no money in the budget to replace them.”

“You don’t need money to update your browsers. I mean, yeah, you can get nice machines with money. But I can help you upgrade a lot of this without it costing anything.”

“You can?” Mrs. Eisenberg glances back at me and I accidentally drop my scissors. “Isn’t this great, Drew?”

I fumble for them and start to cut again. “Yeah,” I mutter. “Great.”

Mrs. Eisenberg leans over Audrey, following whatever she’s doing. Or more likely trying to follow.

Who does Audrey think she is, anyway? Does she really think she’s going to fix all the library’s computers? She’s twelve. Or thirteen? Actually, I don’t know how old she is. But I do know how the library works, or at least how it used to work.

There are some things I don’t get to do. Like putting away all the books. That’s the job for the teens—the pages. I only get to do those things if they’re out sick and the librarians really need help. And the computers? That’s Ellie’s job. You can’t just come in here and take someone else’s job. It doesn’t work like that. Even if you’re—especially if you’re—just a kid.

“Audrey, this is amazing! We didn’t know what we were missing down here. You’re going to be a really wonderful addition to our team, you know that?”

Audrey gives Mrs. Eisenberg back her chair. I glance down at my cutting and realize I’ve totally butchered my sun. I crinkle it up and toss it in a nearby garbage can. It misses.

When Audrey sits back down at the table across from me, there’s this new smile on her face. She doesn’t even reach out to her phone to check the time again, just grabs a new sheet of paper and starts tracing.

Snip, snip, snip.

Clickety-click-clack.

A few minutes later Mrs. Eisenberg comes over to our table. When I look up, Audrey’s got her suns placed in perfectly neat little piles. Wait a sec. How’d she finish almost twice as many as me?

“Looking good! You know, Audrey, I was just thinking how a lot of parents have been inquiring about STEM programs for the little ones, but I don’t have a clue where to start. Is that something you’d want to help me with?”

For the little ones. She doesn’t mean in place of story hour. Wait, does she?

“That sounds fun,” Audrey says. “Just the planning, though … right?”

Mrs. Eisenberg beams. “Fantastic. It’ll take some time to get it off the ground. Well, I should probably take advantage of the quiet right now and pop upstairs for a bit. You two holler if it gets too crazy or send one of the pages up for me.” Sometimes I forget they’re even down here. The teens who pick the requested books off the shelf or reshelve the returns are so quiet—honestly almost ninjalike sometimes. Plus, they’re always wearing headphones.

I glance at Audrey, who’s somehow managed to churn out perfect suns even while talking, like she’s some kind of multitasking machine. Jaw clenched, I start tracing again.

By the time the church bells across the street ring for noon, I’m shooting out of my chair and over to Mrs. Eisenberg, asking if I can take an early lunch. I grab my sandwich from the staff fridge and use the last seventy-five cents in my wallet to get a candy bar from the vending machine.

If I’m going to have to suffer through an entire afternoon of Audrey trying to show me up, I need some sugar, stat.

Upstairs, I pass by Mom at the reference desk and give her a little wave, but she’s busy with Mrs. Kaminsky from down the street and barely able to wave back.

Once I’m outside, I settle onto my favorite bench under the tree. Half in the shade, half in the sun. No Audrey. No screaming babies. It’s so perfect I’m almost suspicious. I bite into the Snickers—my favorite—and let the chocolate and peanuts quiet my rumbling stomach.

Audrey rounds the corner, earbuds in. I stop chewing. If I stay as still as possible, maybe she won’t see me. She sits with her back against the brick library wall, her head drooping forward as she pulls a book out of her bag.

In the clear!

I return to chewing. Maybe the smart thing would be to run away—scram while she’s deep into her book. But I can’t let her take over all my spaces. Not that quickly. I’ve got to stand my ground somewhere.

Audrey sniffles.

No. Please. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t.

Oh no. She is. She’s crying. Her hands shoot up and cover her face, but it’s happening. It’s happening and I’m right here and now I definitely can’t run away. You can’t run away from a crying person. She swipes a hand under her nose and then—spotted.

“What?” Her lip quivers as she shoots me—me—a withering stare. What exactly did I do wrong here?

I hold up the candy bar. “Do you want a piece?”

Audrey scoffs, “Of the candy bar that you’ve already taken a bite out of?”

I sigh. Why did I for one second think it was a good idea to offer in the first place? “I was gonna break a piece off the other side, but fine, if you want to say no to free chocolate, that’s—”

“Fine. Sorry. I—” Audrey exhales. “I guess I’ll have a bite.”

I rip off a chunk from the other side and hand it to her, still in the wrapper so it’s free of Drew germs.

I’m not even sure why I’m doing it. Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly why I’m doing it: because it’s the kind of thing my dad used to do. He said a little bit of chocolate always made people feel better. Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from a dentist, right?

A piece of chocolate goes down the wrong way, and I need to sip some water to keep myself from coughing.

Audrey chews quietly while I get my coughing fit under control. “Did you ever have to move?” she asks.

I shake my head.

“You’re lucky, then. I’ve had to move five thousand times, and each time it sucks more than the last.”

I take another bite of the Snickers. “Why do you have to move all the time?”

“My dad’s a physicist. He got this new job at Brown, which, supposedly”—she crosses her fingers—“is the job he’ll have for the rest of his life. If he gets tenure. But that’s what they said about his last job, so who knows.”

“Where’d you live before?”

“Let me see.” She counts on her fingers. “Palo Alto. Santiago, Chile. Austin, Texas. Chicago. Pasadena. And now here.”

“Five thousand, huh?” I joke.

Audrey sticks her tongue out the side of her mouth. There’s a little bit of melted chocolate on it. “Whatever. At least your dad stays in one place.”

She hit that one right on the nose.

“What’s your dad do, anyway, that makes your family have to live in Rhode Island?” She says it as if there are rats and cockroaches swarming all around us. It’s the ocean state, Audrey. Not the sewage state. Sheesh.

The truth catches in my throat, like it has for the past three years. That Dad doesn’t do anything anymore. He stopped being anything at all—my father, a Little League coach, a storyteller, a dentist, everything—when he killed himself. “He’s a dentist.”

“And he lets you eat candy bars for lunch?”

She doesn’t notice my lie. Skips right over it. Maybe I’ve gotten so good at pretending everything’s okay now that I fool her, too.

“I have a sandwich!” I raise the plastic baggie up in the air.

Talking about Dad like he’s still around is starting to seriously weird me out, so I switch subjects real fast. “What grade are you going into?”

“Seventh.”

“Me too. You going to school in town?”

“I’m on the waiting list for Moses Brown.”

“Oh.”

“It’s a private school.” Audrey reaches for her earbuds.

I know it doesn’t entirely make sense, but for some reason I still want to talk to her. It would be nice to get along with the person I’m going to be spending all my summer weekdays with. “Hey, what were you listening to?” I ask.

“Puccini,” she says, rubbing one of the earbuds between her fingers.

“Is that some new band?”

Audrey snorts. “Are you serious?”

“I’m going to go with no?”

“Puccini is opera, Drew.”

Opera? What seventh grader listens to opera?

And just like that, Audrey pops her earbuds back in and pretends I don’t exist. I try to do the same, but if I’m going to be totally honest, it doesn’t work. Whether I like it or not, I have a feeling I’m stuck with Audrey for the rest of the summer.
A Reading Group Guide to

Things You Can’t Say

By Jenn Bishop

About the Book

It doesn’t make sense. None of it does. Not one part of this summer. It’s been three years since Drew’s father’s death by suicide, and nothing has felt quite right for Drew ever since. At least he has his volunteer job at the local library. But now there’s a new girl, Audrey, taking over his turf in the children’s room and his best friend, Filipe, has been acting weird around him. Most upsetting, however, is the mysterious man who is suddenly staying with Drew’s family. Is this mystery man trying to take his father’s place? And what is his mom not telling him?

Discussion Questions

1. The importance of friendship is one of the main themes in Things You Can’t Say. Reread chapter one. Discuss how this first meeting between Drew and Audrey sows the seeds of their friendship. Why doesn’t Drew tell Audrey the truth about his father’s death? How does Audrey’s willingness to plainly discuss suicide represent an act of friendship? How does Audrey help Drew realize that he needs to talk to his mother face-to-face?

2. After first meeting Phil, Drew confronts his mother in an effort to learn the man’s identity. Mom explains Phil’s connection to the family and that he will be staying with them for a few days. She tells him, “‘I can see how it must have been confusing for you to have him stop by before I told you, and I’m sorry about that. But sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.’” Discuss other things in the story that “don’t go according to plan” for Drew. How does he react to these instances? How would you have handled them if you were Drew?

3. After their first interaction, Drew tries his best not to like Phil. At their first meal together, why does Drew sit in the spot that used to be his father’s? Why is Drew so resistant to welcoming Phil? How does Phil’s presence threaten Drew’s role in the family?

4. The nature of memory is another of the story’s themes. Drew recalls a picture of his father from his dental website. He thinks, “I hate that picture because it’s exactly how I remember him now. I remember that picture more than I remember the actual him. But that picture is all I have left.” What does Drew mean by this? What exactly does he hate? What is it about the picture that connects him to his father?

5. Discuss Drew’s beach memory. He recalls the plush seagull toy his father gave to him, and thinks, “Most of the things I remember from being a little kid, they’re not because I really remember them. They’re because we still talk about them. That’s what keeps them alive. The story of what happened replaces the memory. Or maybe the story strengthens it. If you don’t talk about things, eventually you forget them. Completely.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain your answer, giving an example from your own life.

6. After Drew’s father’s death by suicide, Drew had to help out more around the house. How is he both resentful and proud of the responsibilities he had to assume? Drew’s grandmother tells him, “You’re the man of the house now, Drew. But you can handle it. You’ve always been a responsible little boy. You keep your eye on your mother, you hear.” Do you think it was fair to ask Drew to “keep everything together”? How do you think this has affected the way Drew reacted to his father’s absence?

7. Drew is worried that he will inherit his father’s mental illness. Why doesn’t he share his worries with his mother? How might the story have changed if he’d confided in her earlier?

8. Drew has many questions regarding his father’s death. If his dad was so sick, if he really was depressed, how come Drew couldn’t tell? Shouldn’t he have been able to see that something was wrong? Do you agree or disagree with Drew’s assessment? Explain your answer. Why do you think Drew believes he should have known what his father was battling? What should you do if you suspect someone needs help?

9. Why does Drew come to the conclusion that his dad was a liar? How does this conclusion help Drew cope with his loss and grief? Why does Drew feel betrayed when he discovers that Phil and his dad were best friends?

10. Drew angrily destroys one of his dad’s painted ships. Does this act make Drew feel better? Discuss other ways in which Drew displays anger. How do you deal with your anger? What advice would you have for Drew?

11. How is Drew’s heart like the ruined ship, in “a million tiny broken pieces”? After the shed incident, Drew’s mom comes to his room for a talk. She says, “‘We need to talk about things like we promised. Not let them fester until they’re so big we don’t think we can handle them.’” What does it mean to let something fester? Why can that be dangerous? Discuss other examples from the text in which Drew chooses to bury his feelings, and what happens as a result. How does this conversation relate to the book’s title? What kinds of things are difficult to say?

12. Drew and Filipe have begun to grow apart. Why does Drew feel like he can’t tell Filipe his feelings about his father’s suicide? Why does Drew feel like Filipe is embarrassed at having him around? Discuss which of Drew’s perceptions you believe to be true, and Filipe’s possible motivations for his actions. When Filipe taunts Drew about Audrey, Drew attacks him. Why do you think Drew would “go all psycho” on Filipe? What does this say about their friendship?

13. In chapter eleven, Drew has a conversation with Phil in the backyard while he’s doing his exercise routine. Phil encourages Drew to join him; Drew finally agrees, thinking, “There’s something about the way he looks at me, almost like how the kids stare up at me right before I begin a puppet show. And for some reason, this time I can’t say no.” Why do you think Phil’s look has such a strong effect on Drew? Do you think there are any other reasons why Drew decides to try Phil’s exercise moves?

14. Afterward, Drew gets upset and runs into the house. What makes him so upset, and what does he mean by describing his heart as “rattling and constricting”? Do you think Phil would have understood if Drew had shared those feelings with him?

15. Drew begins to believe that Phil may be his biological father. What clues does he piece together to convince himself that he is Phil’s son? Why does part of Drew want Phil to be his biological father?

16. Drew has many questions about the possibility of being Phil’s son. What are the dangers of asking “what if” style questions? Why does Drew keep his thoughts a secret from Audrey and his mother?

17. As Phil heads out to continue his cross-country ride, Drew feels a “pinch” in his gut. What do you think Drew is feeling at this moment? Why might he be feeling this way? Drew thinks, “Audrey has no idea the real reason I want Phil to be my dad. How it wouldn’t just change my past, but my future.” What do you think Drew means by this thought?

18. Drew pushes away the thought that his mom is concealing Phil’s true identity, thinking, “I can’t let myself think that thought too seriously for too long. It’s too much. Too big. Too scary.” By pushing away his thoughts and fears, how might Drew be making his life more painful? How does believing that his mom lied about his biological father help Drew cope with his loss?

19. Drew’s mom says, “But hiding a part of yourself, that’s different from lying.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain your answer.

20. Drew is grieving. How do descriptions of Drew’s feelings help you to understand how powerful the loss of a parent can be? Why do you think Drew misses Phil, even though he was only with the family for a few days? Discuss the following passage: “In those days after dad died, all I wanted was some way to hit undo. Exit without saving progress. If Phil is my real dad, maybe I can undo. The hugest kind of undo. Erase all progress. Reboot and start over.” Have you ever felt this way? How might you help yourself or others through a challenging time? Explain your answers.

21. After his fight with Filipe, Drew decides to mow the lawn. He has the urge to exercise like Phil, and thinks, “I get why he does it. Why it feels good. Letting loose all the sadness, the frustration, confusion, all the things you can’t go back and fix. The fear. The hope. Except I don’t want to do it so quietly. I want to shake everything out and scream at the top of my lungs. Maybe then, some stillness will come.” What does Drew means by stillness? Why can it feel good to let go?

22. Drew’s dad died when Xan was very young. Drew says, “All he has is that picture in his book. And stories I don’t even tell him. Stories I keep locked up inside. Someday he won’t even have a single memory of Dad . . . Maybe that’s better, though. Not remembering. Because there are good memories and there are bad, and you don’t get to choose which ones stick in your brain forever.” Do you agree with Drew that it’s better not to remember? Explain your answer. Why do you think Drew is keeping the stories of his father “locked up inside”?

23. What emotions is Drew feeling as he destroys his father’s belongings? Confused about Drew’s reaction to news that Phil is not his biological father, Audrey says, “‘But isn’t that what you wanted?’” Drew’s answer is a yes and no; he wonders how both answers can be wrong, and both can be right. Discuss the conflicting feelings Drew is experiencing. Why did he both want and not want Phil to be his father? How can he move on from this news?

24. What does Drew discover about keeping secrets and holding in feelings? How does learning that his dad was encouraged not to express his feelings help Drew better understand his father? How might you help others feel like they can express their emotions? Do you have someone you can confide in?

25. How does hearing the truth from his mother offer the possibility of forgiveness? How does Phil help Drew begin to heal as they go through his father’s childhood possessions? How does their conversation lead to Drew’s reconciliation with Filipe?

Extension Activities

1. The Google Machine. Drew and Audrey use Facebook to learn information about Phil. Audrey shares with Drew how she “Google-stalked” kids from her former school. Work with the school media specialist to introduce students to the pros and cons of social media, and how they can stay safe on-line.

2. What Is Weird? Audrey refers to herself as “weird.” Start a discussion about what this word means to students. Ask each student to write a short essay, titled What Is Weird? Give students an opportunity to present their essays to the class.

3. Zombie Puppet Apocalypse. Drew reads books to preschool children during story hour, often turning classic literary characters into zombies. Work with the art teacher to create puppets depicting a classic children’s story with a twist, such as “The Three Little Pigs Travel to Outer Space.” Have students write the scripts in literacy class. Then invite younger students to a class puppet-theater production.

4. Time Capsule of Memory. Drew and Phil go through a box of Drew’s dad’s childhood belongings. Have students create a list of objects and mementos that reflect who they are at this point in their lives, choosing three of the most important to share with the class. Consider creating a time capsule to open at the end of the school year.

5. Hero Project. Drew reminisces about a fifth-grade school project: “Back in fifth grade, we had this hero project. You had to write an essay about your personal hero, and then afterward there was this day where everyone in the whole grade dressed up like their hero.” After reading the text, plan a similar hero day for the class.

6. That Kind of Person. Throughout the story, Drew struggles with the memory of his father and his perception of the type of person who would take his or her own life: “It would have made at least some sense if he’d been different. If he’d been the kind of person who wanted to sleep all day. Or if he’d had a drinking problem, like some adults. Something. But that wasn’t true.” Invite a mental health professional from your school or community to speak to the class about mental illness to share facts about depression and suicide.

Guide written by Colleen Carroll, reading teacher, literacy specialist, education consultant, and author of the twelve-volume series, How Artists See and four-volume How Artists See, Jr. (Abbeville Press). Contact Colleen at www.colleencarroll.us.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Photograph © Kate L Photography

Jenn Bishop is the author of the middle grade novels 14 Hollow RoadThe Distance to Home, which was a Junior Library Guild selection and a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book; Things You Can’t Say; and Where We Used to Roam. She grew up in New England, where she fell in love with the ocean, Del’s frozen lemonade, and the Boston Red Sox before escaping to college at the University of Chicago. After working as a teen and children’s librarian, she received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Jenn currently calls Cincinnati, Ohio, home. Visit her online at JennBishop.com.

“As Things You Can't Say shows the gaping fissures that loss and grief can cause in a kiddo's life, so too does it show how those same fissures may begin to heal and close. That we are rooting so hard for their closing in Andrew's life is a measure of how wonderfully real and honest this story is, and of how deep our need is for just the right words.” —Gary D. Schmidt, Newbery Honor Winner and National Book Award Finalist

“With grit and authenticity, Bishop takes us inside the head and heart of a young boy. Be prepared to laugh, cry, cheer, and turn the last page with a satisfying sigh." —Barbara O'Connor, author of Wonderland

“This touching, authentic novel will open readers’ eyes and hearts about mental health issues in loving, ‘normal’ families. Jenn Bishop explores a challenging subject with sensitivity and grace.” —Barbara Dee, author of Maybe He Just Likes You

"People who go away forever. People who come out of nowhere. People who drift away and then drift back. Three years after the death of his father, young Drew finds a way to make peace with all these sorts of people. An emotional tale of a boy who finds it takes equal measures of courage to move forward and to look back.” —Paul Mosier, author of Echo's Sister

"There is so much that 12-year-old Drew can't say. He can't ask his mom why, three years ago, his seemingly happy father killed himself. He can't ask her why an old friend of hers, Phil, has suddenly shown up on his motorcycle and completely disrupted Drew's life or whether or not, as he's begun to suspect, that man is his real father. He can't quite bring himself to tell prickly Audrey, the new helper at the library where he volunteers all summer, that he's starting to really like her. And he can't tell his best friend, Filipe, any of the things that are really on his mind. Perhaps, the biggest thing he can't communicate is that he's terrified that whatever was wrong with his father could be haunting his future, too. In this believable, character-driven exploration of the long-lasting shadow suicide casts, Bishop imbues Drew, his loving mother, and Audrey with just enough insight to make their efforts to support each other fully believable. Drew's emerging anger with his father is both poignant and tragically appropriate. Drew's present-tense narration is candid and vulnerable, offering readers both mirrors for and windows to this particular, very difficult experience. The cast defaults to white. An author's note discusses suicide and, together with an appended list of resources, offers direction for readers in search of support; in the acknowledgments, Bishop briefly describes her research. A thoughtful examination of the slow, uneven recovery that follows a devastating loss. (Fiction. 10-14)" Kirkus Reviews

There is so much that 12-year-old Drew can't say.He can't ask his mom why, three years ago, his seemingly happy father killed himself. He can't ask her why an old friend of hers, Phil, has suddenly shown up on his motorcycle and completely disrupted Drew's life or whether or not, as he's begun to suspect, that man is his real father. He can't quite bring himself to tell prickly Audrey, the new helper at the library where he volunteers all summer, that he's starting to really like her. And he can't tell his best friend, Filipe, any of the things that are really on his mind. Perhaps, the biggest thing he can't communicate is that he's terrified that whatever was wrong with his father could be haunting his future, too. In this believable, character-driven exploration of the long-lasting shadow suicide casts, Bishop imbues Drew, his loving mother, and Audrey with just enough insight to make their efforts to support each other fully believable. Drew's emerging anger with his father is both poignant and tragically appropriate. Drew's present-tense narration is candid and vulnerable, offering readers both mirrors for and windows to this particular, very difficult experience. The cast defaults to white. An author's note discusses suicide and, together with an appended list of resources, offers direction for readers in search of support; in the acknowledgments, Bishop briefly describes her research. A thoughtful examination of the slow, uneven recovery that follows a devastating loss. (Fiction. 10-14) 

– Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2019

This thoughtfully written story shows how difficult it can be for a sensitive boy to open up to others about what's troubling him. Drew's father died of suicide when Drew was nine. Three years later, Drew and his mom still haven't talked about it. He finds refuge volunteering at the public library, but when new girl Audrey appears, Drew thinks she's there to replace him. Gradually, they become friends; Drew even develops a crush on her but is afraid to tell her. When his best friend Filipe starts hanging out with an older kid from school, Drew feels left out but doesn't confront Filipe. Initially, Drew is suspicious and resentful when Phil, a high-school friend of his mom's, unexpectedly arrives for a few days. But, Phil's genuine interest in him leads Drew to wonder if Phil is his real father. In her third middle-grade novel (14 Hollow Road, 2017) Bishop realistically depicts Drew's anger and hurt over his father's death. A sensitive exploration of suicide, forgiveness, and the difficulty of navigating friendships.

– Booklist, February 1, 2020

Bishop, Jenn

Things You Can't Say

2020. 336pp. $17.99. hc. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 9781534440975. Grades 6-8

While many kids won’t feel quite as isolated or as stuck as Drew, whose father tragically committed suicide three years ago, the inability to talk about deep emotional grief is a topic that will resonate and is deftly handled here. It’s summer, and Drew’s best friend is becoming more athletic and popular, his semi-volunteer gig at the library has been invaded by a new girl in town, and, worst of all, Mom has invited some guy to visit without letting him or his little brother know. Drew, who has been the man of the family since his father's death, has a lot to say, but no good avenue to express himself. The results are predictable; yet, as Drew works through each of these relationships, the author never takes it over the top. The guy visiting is an old friend of his father and yet his mother does seem to be attracted to him. It's all real-world stuff, with the possible exception of one or two hoop shots with friend Filipe. There are a lot of library scenes fittingly woven into the narrative. Drew puts on puppet shows and watches the children’s department when the children’s librarian is away, and his mother also works there. Interlibrary loans play a role in the plot as well. Although Drew’s family situation is unique, his instinct to close off and not express his true feelings or ask questions will be universally recognized. Carol Edwards, Retired Librarian, Littleton, Colorado

Recommended

– School Library Connection, March April 2020

The children’s room in the library is 12-year-old Drew’s happy place, where he does puppet shows for younger kids without any peers around to make fun—until new kid Audrey, also 12, shows up and takes over the room. If that’s not enough to ruin his summer, his best friend, Felipe, has grown distant, and Phil, an old friend of Drew’s mother, suddenly arrives for a visit. It’s been three years since Drew’s father committed suicide, and Phil’s arrival raises a lot of questions. Drew worries that he’s headed in the same direction as his father, who seemed happy until his death, and he wonders if Phil could be his real father (he certainly knows a lot about Drew’s family). As Audrey and Drew become friendly, she helps him find information, but knowing more doesn’t make anything less confusing. In a story about the aftermath of parental suicide, former children’s librarian Bishop (14 Hollow Road) tells a touching and believable story about the ways worries feed on each other, the difference that honesty makes to kids, and how much emotional growth a child Drew’s age can experience in just a few weeks. Ages 8–12. Agent: Katie Grimm, Don Congdon Assoc. (Mar.)

– Publishers Weekly, January 27, 2020

Twelve-year-old Drew has spent his summers volunteering at the library since his dad died by suicide three years ago. This summer, though, he finds he’s growing distant from his best friend Filipe and reluctantly developing a friendship (and maybe more) with Audrey, the new children’s department volunteer. On top of that, Mom’s high school friend Phil, a motorcycle-riding, early-morning exercise kind of guy who makes Mom blush, will be staying with them for a few days. Drew’s hurt and desperate for answers, but he’s not sure how, or to whom, he can talk about his feelings. With a deft, sympathetic hand, Bishop relates Drew’s struggles to define his own identity while coming to terms with the man his father was. Drew’s misguided quest to prove that Phil is his birth dad is a form of closure; he’s scared he might have inherited his father’s mental illness and worried that he, too, might be hiding potential to hurt the people he loves. While Phil isn’t Drew’s father, he turns out to be Dad’s best friend and Mom’s high school sweetheart; by drawing on memories, Bishop develops all three adults as characters without vilifying Drew’s father. That pays off when the time comes for difficult, honest conversations that respect Drew’s maturity but acknowledge the difficulties he’s experienced on being thrust into a situation he wasn’t emotionally prepared to face. The ending sets the scene for future healing, reminding readers young and old of the value of communication.  AMM

– BCCB, March 1, 2020