Book Review: What to Say Next
“So far she’s the only person I’ve ever known who has helped make being me a little less hard.”
David Drucker has never really had any friends aside from his older sister Miney. He’s not good in social situations. He keeps a journal of social rules and notes about the people he encounters. Many of those people fall on a “Do Not Trust” list Miney helped him start compiling before she left for college. Rather than interact with his classmates who call him weird, David prefers to put on his headphones and listen to music during his lunch period. One day, Kit Lowell, the prettiest girl in school, sits next to him. It changes everything.
In What to Say Next, each teenager is struggling with something: David is autistic. Kit’s father died suddenly in a car crash. As they eat lunch with each other every day, they find an unexpected supportive friend. Because David is blunt and honest, he has no problem talking about Kit’s dad’s death while everyone else tiptoes around it (including her workaholic Indian mother). Kit looks beyond David’s surface to see who he really is while no one else at school does. Their friendship slowly blooms into romance. When Kit asks David to help her really dig into her dad’s accident, though, both of them face truths they don’t really want to.
Julie Buxbaum has a wonderful way of writing characters that are not perfect. The emotions they experience–grief, giddiness at new relationships, joy, anger–are all instantly relatable. David and Kit are so fully realized that by the end of What to Say Next, they feel like friends. You’ve cheered alongside David when he finally joins an after-school activity and stands up to hateful bullies. You’ve been outraged alongside Kit when she discovers her mother has been hiding things from her and relieved when she lets her best friends back into her life. And you’ve swooned as David enacts a multi-step apology/entreaty, leaving his heart on his sleeve for Kit to find. They’re such great characters that you can ignore the slight missteps in the story (namely the semi-rushed revelation at the end).
What to Say Next is many things: an educating glimpse into autism, a lesson on accepting and embracing differences, the pangs and joys of high school, and, most importantly, a simple story about love in all forms.