Whether born mute, struck dumb by an illness or accident, or shut down into silence by traumatic circumstances, the characters in these novels have rich and varied tales to tell. We’ve rounded up a bunch of our favorites here for your reading list.
Writer and director Guillermo Del Toro and author Daniel Kraus cowrote this novelized version of the Academy Award-winning movie of the same name. This isn’t your average movie tie-in novel, though. It further expands the storylines and characters of the film, which follows Elisa Esposito, a young mute woman who falls in love with a sea creature imprisoned at the government research center where she works as a janitor. Using sign language, the two learn to communicate. Soon, affection turns into love. The only trouble is, the top-secret creature is slated for dissection and Elisa has no choice but to hatch a plan to break the creature out of the lab.
One of my favorite all-time literary characters is Oscar, the mute dwarf in this modern classic and Nobel Prize winner. Grass’s black humor and savage irony are as piercing as Oscar’s high-pitched scream — loud enough to break glass and his only “voice” of protest against mindless cruelties. Born in Eastern Germany during the Hitler era, Oscar is kind of a barometer of evil in its many forms: racism, hatred, persecution, sexual predation and other violence, indifference and hypocrisy. He is a foil but not a neutral, passive one: vacillating between victim and victimizer along with the mass of his countrymen. One of the most compelling literary characters I have encountered, his “silence” becomes a metaphor for the moral vacuousness that can plague supposedly civilized peoples. —Philip Wolfson
Melody Fisher is just sixteen years old, but she’s already experienced enough heartbreak to last a lifetime. From the time of her mother’s death and her father’s disappearance when she was only nine years old, Melody has bounced between various foster placements and new schools, often finding each one worse than the last. As a result of the trauma she has faced, she shuts down all spoken communication. She wants to protect herself and those around her, but when she has to testify on her own behalf, staying silent might not be an option. Speak No Evil is a multiple award-winning YA novel that IndieReader hails as “… a touching tribute to the power of love, faith and steadfast, patient kindness to heal the damage done by human cruelty and thoughtlessness.” (Read Paige Bremner’s full review here.)
Hanna is the bright but mute seven-year-old child of Suzette and Alex. Suzette had a difficult childhood that included poor mothering; Alex is a cheery guy who desperately loves his wife and showers Hanna with love and attention. Both parents spend lots of time with Hanna and have the utmost patience for her, but Hanna seems to only love her Daddy. In fact, Hanna has an alter ego that seems to want to kill Mommy so she can have Daddy all to herself … and she is working on a plan. When mother and daughter are alone she terrorizes her but when Daddy gets home she is her cuddly sweet self. Alex can neither comprehend nor believe there’s anything wrong with Hanna. We can see where this is going, right? And it does, as Suzette enters a spiral of illness and begins to fear for her life. (Read the full review by Jennifer Blankfein here.)
In this BookTrib favorite and bestselling thriller, a criminal psychotherapist named Theo treats an intriguing institutionalized patient named Alicia, a famous artist who, after killing her equally famous photographer husband, stops speaking altogether. Determined to get her to talk and uncover her motive, Theo — and the reader — is in for more than a few surprises. Not to mention what we can only refer to as The Twist. Just some of our contributors’ praise:
Born mute, Edgar Sawtelle had to learn other ways to communicate with people and the dogs his parents breed on their Wisconsin farm. When his Uncle Claude unexpectedly turns up and Edgar’s father dies suddenly, it is Edgar who pieces together the terrifying truth: his murderous uncle has plans on Edgar’s mother and the family business. After failing to prove this, Edgar bravely flees into the wilderness with three of the dogs in tow. It takes all of his resourcefulness and perseverance to keep himself and the dogs alive until he can return with a plan to save his mother and their farm. This Oprah Book Club pick has been hailed as “a riveting family saga, a brilliant exploration of the limits of language, and a compulsively readable modern classic.”
Interestingly, a very similar theme appears in Koontz’s last release, and since we love making these kinds of connections, indulge us for its inclusion here. Woody Bookman hasn’t spoken once in his eleven-year-old life. That fact provides for a unique bond of communication between him and Kipp, a golden retriever. And, true to form, Kipp is the only one who seems to get the fact that a monstrous entity, some form of ultimate evil, was responsible for the death of Woody’s father and is coming for the boy and his mother. This is a warm, deeply engrossing tale that reminded me in all the right ways of the Robert R. McCammon classic Boy’s Life for its easy mix of the normal and not-so-normal, as well as the mysticism that defines childhood itself. —Jon Land
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