I was so excited for Don't Say a Word by Holly Cupala because I absolutely loved Tell Me a Secret. And for the most part it SO delivered. Almost the whole way through Don't Say a Word, I was convinced it was going to be a new favorite, a five star rating, Basically Amazing. Everything about it was like Tell Me a Secret, only more. The cover is better, the emotions more intense, the danger more real etc. But, unfortunately, everything was more, which also means that the complaints I had about the ending of Tell Me were more in Don't Breathe as well, and I was left disappointed by the end.
In Don't Breathe a Word, Joy, so desperate to get away from the problems in her home life, fakes her own kidnapping and runs away, determined to find the homeless boy in Seattle who once offered her help. The pieces to why Joy is so desperate to get away, and why it's necessary that it not seem like a voluntary absence, are slowly revealed as the story unfolds. You know there is something sinister about her boyfriend, Asher, but we don't know the extent of it until much later in the story, but still, my heart just ached for Joy as I thought about all that she must have gone through, all that rested on her shoulders. But, then, she escapes and she finds Creed, who welcomes her into his 'family'.
Joy (now called Triste) knew that being homeless would be hard. But she thought more about the physical hardships — no shelter, little food, no money etc and less about the dangers from other people. Before she finds Creed, she has close encounters with several dangerous persons and in one encounter, loses her backpack with all her money, but more importantly, her asthma inhalers, which she needs to live. She's been hospitalized numerous times because of near fatal asthma attacks, and it's one more reasons Joy felt completely smothered at home. This is something that saddened me, because her parents don't realize what her life is like. She tries so hard to be a help, not a burden to her parents that she doesn't tell them about what's going on with her and they either don't notice, or they choose not to. Everyone is constantly afraid she will have an asthma attack so her freedoms are nonexistent and her boyfriend is controlling, manipulative and creepy. And her parents have no idea, instead pushing her closer to Asher, because he takes care of her and can protect her. Broke my heart. It's something that I'm genuinely afraid of — having a child going through something so horrible and not having a clue about it.
This book, this story was intense. Living on the streets is not a picnic, not something easy, and a decision to leave your home to live on the streets is not something that should be easily reached. Joy thought she was prepared for what was waiting, but she wasn't even close. I was constantly afraid for Joy and I was so happy when she found a group of people who accepted her and helped her. She really connected with the people who made up her new family; Creed, the leader who found her and was the first to welcome her, Santos, who keeps his dark secrets close but finds Triste the asthma medicine she needs, and May, initially wary of Triste and unwilling to welcome her, but they soon reach a friendly understanding and May even gives Triste a better (much better) haircut. But, life on the streets cannot remain happy for very long and the four are faced with regular challenges and dangers, some that they cannot escape from.
And it's told beautifully. I mean it. Guys, I was always so caught up in this story, so moved, so worried for these characters. I felt so much of this story, so strongly. Cupala writes hard and painful emotions perfectly.
But as I mentioned earlier, I didn't feel the novel as a whole maintained that level of emotion. For such a powerfully intense and gritty story, the ending was far too tidy. The story was so realistic, so believable and so hard to read because of it. But then the ending took all that away from me. Real life does not hand you packages wrapped with bows, which is what I got from this book. If I want bows on my endings, I read light-hearted Contemporary, maybe some fantasy, or some middle grade. If I want realistic and honest endings, I read Contemporary YA. And this book delivered all that I desire in an emotional Contemporary read, right up until that ending. And the ending that was delivered here cheapened not only the experiences of every single character, but the people and teens who have to live through something like this in real life too.
I'm a firm believer in the power of endings. Ofttimes for me, they can make or break a book completely. I still loved this book, I really did. The writing is too honest and powerful to ignore but the ending significantly lessened the impact of the story for me.
But even with my disappointment in the ending, this is still a book that I'm going to highly recommend reading. Cupala is a gifted writer and I plan to read her for as long as she writes (although, not gonna lie, I am hoping that her endings get a little more... authentic with future books).