I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo
Published by Swoon Reads on August 4th, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Mental Health, Romance, Young Adult
Words are strong. Love is stronger.
When Jordyn Michaelson’s autistic brother joins her at her elite school, she’s determined not to let anyone know they're related. Even if that means closing herself off to all her closest friends, including charming football stud Alex Colby. But despite her best intentions, she just can't shake the memory of kissing Alex last summer, and the desire to do it again.
Can Jordyn find the courage to tell Alex how she really feels—and the truth about her family—before he slips away forever?
By the time I picked up How to Say I Love You Out Loud, I was a little hesitant. I’ve been tempted by so many Swoon Reads titles because of their absolutely gorgeous covers, but they’ve failed for me more often than not. But wow. I’m so glad I read this one anyway. How to Say I Love You Out Loud is powerful and emotional, and it brings autism to light in a way I had never considered it before.
Jordyn’s little brother has autism. This is something that has shaped her whole family and her whole life. He doesn’t have the mild kind of autism that you probably hear about all the time – that he just can’t connect with other people that easily and is kind of socially awkward. No, he actually has heightened sensitivity to sound, light, and any unexpected situations – to cope, he’s usually shut inside his own world. He can barely speak, so when something happens that he doesn’t like or cannot handle, he does the only thing he can: he screams. I’m not familiar enough with autism to know if the specifics are right or realistic, but I do feel that Cozzo handled it with the utmost respect.
It took me a little while to get used to Jordyn. Knowing her brother’s condition, she can come across as a bit selfish and uncaring. But her narrative voice is strong. All of the attention has always been on her brother. All of their plans have always been formed around her brother’s needs. Her family has the philosophy that equality in the love and time the kids receive is not a 50-50 split, but based on how much they actually need. So it’s not hard to understand that Jordyn’s felt this inequality – has felt less than – and that it would make her resent her brother just a little bit.
The story focuses on Jordyn coming to terms with her brother’s condition and being able to love him and others anyway. When his special needs school is closed, he’s sent to Jordyn’s public school, and what follows is absolutely painful. The reader is confronted by the realistic reactions of teenagers: they don’t understand autism, so they’ll make fun of it, exaggerate it, and jump to conclusions about the kids being crazy and/or dangerous. Jordyn keeps her brother a secret, because in elementary school she was teased and judged because of him, as if autism is contagious. No one wanted to be associated with the “crazy family”. My heart went out to Jordyn. It was so unfair.
Obviously these things all make Jordyn put up immense walls between her and other people. She hasn’t told her friends about her brother. She never invites anyone over. She lies a lot to keep people at a distance. It can be frustrating to read, but it is very understandable. When people find out about the lies, they tease her and judge her again – and there’s quite some mean girl stuff that happens that is just infuriating. But ultimately the character growth is there. Jordyn finds her voice, and tells her brother’s story while he can’t, in a scene that almost brought me to tears. This book is important.
There’s romance as well, but I’m of two minds about it, to be honest. Jordyn and Alex are absolutely adorable together – for sure – and I did find myself cheering for them to get together. I mean, romance aside, they’re just such great friends, and Alex is such a gentleman. But I did get frustrated by how long it took for Jordyn to get over her fears and go for it. I know this tied into her whole narrative and her issues with love due to her familial situation, but it was so obvious time and again that both of them were attracted to each other. I’m actually amazed by how patient Alex managed to be. In the end, I liked the romance, but I do feel it was a tiny bit too melodramatic for my taste.