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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.
Charlotte hates her stutter so much that sometimes she wishes she were invisible. When a pair of bullies start picking on another kid on the bus, Charlotte can’t bring herself to stand up for him–not when it might make her the bullies’ next target. And when Charlotte’s best friend tries to stand up to the bullies and becomes a target herself, Charlotte does the unforgivable and abandons her.
Wracked by guilt, Charlotte tries to find new friendships in her musical theater class. But when the school board announces that the class will be cut next semester due to lack of funds, Charlotte won’t make the mistake of staying silent anymore. Through letters, she begins to fight for her musical theater class. And since she can’t stand up for the kids around her with her voice, she starts doing it with her pen, sending anonymous encouraging notes. As the school play draws closer, Charlottes written voice gets stronger. But will she ever find the courage to use her voice to ask for forgiveness?
This novel took me right back to middle school. The shifting, straining friendships, the bullying, trying to fit in so hard you end up pushing other people out–Varnes captures all of it perfectly. Yet SAY IT OUT LOUD does not feel angsty. The musical theater plot line and positive friendships in that class as well as Charlotte’s decision early on to start practicing empathy and encouraging others keep a constant thread of hope and inspiration running through the novel. This is a stand-out middle grade book that will be excellent for contemporary fiction readers, schools, and book clubs.