So Much to Tell You by John Marsden

From the back cover:
Fourteen-year-old Marina didn’t know why she was sent away to school. Actually, that wasn’t completely true. She knew it had something to do with the progress she hadn’t made in the hospital. After all, she still didn’t talk. And Marina knew her mother didn’t want her at home.

Then Marina started writing in a journal for English class. Bit by bit the trauma of her silence began to unfold as a shocking nightmare that continued to haunt her. But Marina refused to talk about it or to feel anything. Still, before she realized it, Marina began to feel a little—to reach out to some of the girls at school, to her favorite teacher, to her family—if only she could find the words…

I have been in a serious John Marsden mood lately, and this is the first of several of his books that will be coming down the pipeline in the near future. This was his first novel, published in 1987, and it’s set in Australia.

It’s February 6, the start of a new term, and an unnamed fourteen-year-old girl has just been assigned journal-writing as homework by the English teacher at Warrington, the boarding school she’s been sent to to learn to talk again. She promises herself that she won’t write in it, but almost immediately begins saying more than she intended to.

As the girl describes life at school and chronicles her observations of her fellow boarders, we begin to pick up hints about what has happened to her. Her face is terribly scarred, for one thing, and she’s spent time in the psych ward of a hospital without much improvement. As she gradually learns to trust her classmates and makes tentative efforts at communication, the truth of what happened to her becomes more clear.

What I really like about So Much to Tell You is that it isn’t a suspense novel. One’s not (or at least I wasn’t) on the edge of one’s seat, frothing to know exactly what happened to the girl (whom we learn at the very end of the novel is called Marina). Instead, what we’re really witnessing is her beginning to heal. Scarred mentally and physically by the family she happened to be born into, with a workaholic father who snapped when his materialistic wife tried to take everything he’d worked so hard for, she begins to realize that most people are fundamentally good, and are more acquainted with feelings of loneliness and ostracism than she expected.

Gradually, Marina finds herself wanting to reach out to her classmates, toward whom she feels no bitterness. Indeed, she is able to praise them quite freely. This, in turn, helps her to reach out to her father, who more than anyone could understand what she’s been going through. Although we aren’t privy to her full recovery, the novel concludes at a point where Marina is clearly going to be okay. Still, I was sorry it was over. Happily, my copy of the companion novel—the journal of one of Marina’s classmates—arrived yesterday, so I will be devouring that promptly.

Lastly, a word of praise for narrator Kate Hosking. I listened to an unabridged recording, and Hosking’s narration really elevated the book for me. She brings Marina to life—and has a cool Australian accent to boot!—and sells Marsden’s prose, which is occasionally a bit too on-the-nose, beautifully. I would happily listen to her read anything.

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