Review of “What To Say Next” by Julie Buxbaum

Kit Lowell, 16, lost her father in a car accident a month before the beginning of this very good novel for young adults. Suddenly she finds it hard to be “normal” around her friends, or anyone else. As she explains:

“They were all chatty, sipping their matching Starbucks lattes, talking about what guy they were hoping was going to ask them to junior prom, assuming I just had a bad case of the Mondays. I was expected to chime in. I am somehow supposed to have bounced back.”

She just can’t. She feels so much pain, she finds it hard to get from one moment to the next: “Time has turned interminable and impenetrable, something to be endured and passed through, however possible.” It’s very hard for someone not going through a loss of someone close to know just how hard it is.

Kit’s dad was big on having provisions stocked in the house in case of emergencies, but after his accident, she realized:

“. . . we all walk around pretending we have some control over our fate, because to recognize the truth – that no matter what we do, the bottom will fall out when we least expect it – is just too unbearable to live with.”

Because Kit couldn’t abide even trying to be “normal” at her usual lunch table at school, she started sitting with David Drucker, a boy in her class with a borderline case of Asperger’s (as he himself describes it). Kit said “I chose David’s table for his silence and for his refuge.” But David feels he should say something even though he has no skill at “chit chat.” He begins to talk to Kit about things that matter, rather than the usual teen banter. He also doesn’t mouth platitudes about what happened to her dad; he allows it wasn’t fair, and talks to her about death and heaven and science versus religion.

His conversation helps Kit, and hers helps him. As it happens, not only has David always had a crush on Kit, but he savors having a friend:

“Here’s the thing about making a friend I didn’t understand before I started talking to Kit: They grow your world. Allow for previously inconceivable possibilities. Before Kit, I never used the word lonely, though that’s exactly what I was. My mind felt too tight, too populated by a single voice. . . . my consciousness . . . still longs for personal connection. Just like everyone else’s.”

But the other kids, especially the bullies, hate that pretty and popular Kit is hanging out with such a “loser” instead of them, and they take their revenge. Both Kit and David are at risk of floundering now. Fortunately, David’s family is strong and supportive toward him, as is Kit’s mom toward her. Kit’s mom tells her: “The thing is, sometimes people grow from breaking.”

Kit has a lot to think about with respect to her group of friends and with David: “We are left to choose whether to grow or to wither. To forgive or fester.” Kit’s mother advises her: “One of the few perks of the shit so monumentally hitting the fan is you discover who your real tribe is. It’s the only way through. So make sure you find yours, Kit.”

Evaluation: This is a lovely story, full of humor as well as heartbreak. Like Rainbow Rowell, Buxbaum has a way of making an unlikely and unexpected adolescent relationship seem convincing and authentic. The two main characters have a number of problems to overcome, but are so charming and smart and funny that each of them becomes irresistible to the other (and to the readers). You will find yourself rooting for both of them. This moving story was a delight to read.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, 2017

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5 Responses to Review of “What To Say Next” by Julie Buxbaum

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I know a 16 year old girl who’s been struggling since her mom passed away in April. This sounds perfect for her.

  2. Constance says:

    Thanks for the suggestion. My sister and I really liked Tell Me Three Things but I hadn’t realized there was a new book by this author.

  3. Deepika Ramesh says:

    I have this problem. I always aks myself, “What to say next?” I liked Rowell’s writing. I think I would love this one too. And I am in awe of your choices. You read YA, Kid-lit, Scifi, Historical Fiction… I am inspired. 😊

  4. I love the comparison to Rainbow. So accurate. :O)

  5. Beth F says:

    Oh wow, this sounds great.

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