Today is release day for one of my favorite new YA novels by Liana Gardner: Speak No Evil. (If you missed my review, read it here.) To help celebrate the release of the book, I invited Liana to do a guest interview and tell us more about a story that reminds us all that silence does not equal consent, and that the truth, even (and perhaps especially) when it hurts, must be spoken. Speak No Evil is a powerful reminder to today's young women to speak up, speak out, and never lose their voice.
Dark, delicate, and masterfully written, Speak No Evil will make you cringe and cry in equal measure as it pulls your heart through the muck of humanity’s worst evils in every page before depositing you at the end feeling uplifted, empowered, and—most of all—grateful." - Seven Jane
Most authors would avoid such serious subject matter (such as abuse, abandonment, and sexual assault), but you've brought them front and center. What made you want to convey this story for a younger audience?
This is such a HUGE question. To be honest, my gut reaction is, “How can we not?”
So, I’m going to start by answering with some facts. Every 92 seconds another American experiences sexual assault. Every 9 minutes that person is a child. Over 60,000 cases of sexual child abuse are documented each year—and those are only the cases that have been reported. Of those cases, 67% of the victims are aged 12-18 and 34% under the age of 12. One in nine girls and one in 53 boys have experienced sexual assault. For every 1,000 cases reported, only 5 perpetrators will be incarcerated.
The majority of child sexual assault cases involve someone known to the victim; parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, teachers, etc. Most are authority figures. There are some commonalities to the occurrence:
By not talking about weighty topics such as abuse, abandonment, and sexual assault, we are perpetuating the isolation the perpetrators have created. We need books like Speak No Evil so those who have experienced or are experiencing these things know they are not alone. So they realize it is not their fault. And hopefully it gives them an opportunity to find their voice and speak out.
We need those who have not experienced the issues to know that they exist and can happen. And hopefully, they can be a better friend to those who have experienced, to be patient and listen to what the survivor has to say and to say those words the survivor most needs to hear--I believe you.
Because, bearing in mind the statistics, in a classroom of 30 students three or four have experienced or are experiencing sexual abuse. If we don’t provide a safe ground for talking about these matters, then who will?
There are those who will argue that the topics in this book will strip away some of the kids’ innocence. I’d rather provide a kid with the framework for awareness and a platform for discussing such heavy topics than have them find out their reality first hand. And please, let’s stop denying such things exist, negating the experience of so many, demeaning their self-worth.
Like Melody’s voice that could calm snakes, Gardner’s storytelling displays the same sort of sinister charm as she unravels Melody’s past to tell the story of her present. Speak No Evil is at once hypnotic, vaguely sinister, and decidedly beautiful, with sharp, poignant prose that handles the heaviest of issues with grace and delicacy." - Seven Jane
What gave you the idea to frame the story around a protagonist who won't speak?
Some stories come a little at a time, slowly building up the framework, while others burst into being almost fully formed. Speak No Evil was the latter kind. I didn’t decide to frame a story around a protagonist who doesn’t speak, it hit me like a lightning bolt.
On my way to work one morning, I had the radio on and an emotional song came on, and I had the idle thought, as I had many times before, that sometimes songs conveyed feelings better than we are able to say them. Then BAM! the story hit … I nearly had to pull over and probably would have if I had been able to. In the same moment, I felt very strongly the urge to speak, but knowing if I opened my mouth, nothing would come out. And more than anything, I knew I had to write this story and give Melody a voice.
How does the book's title relate to the deeper message?
The title immediately brings to mind the three wise monkeys and the message they convey of turning away from evil. But the underlying meaning is how society silences survivors. Do not speak of the evil that befell you because you will be blamed for allowing it to happen. We are so good at turning our heads away from evil, at pretending it doesn’t exist, that the automatic response is to wonder what the victim did to bring their fate crashing down around them.
We don’t want to face the truth; we don’t want to believe evil exists because if it does, and the victim did nothing wrong, then it could happen to me. Facing the truth means we all lose a little of our security—our feeling of safety.
What do you hope readers take away from your work?
Understanding. Empathy. Hope.
In many ways it depends on the reader. If the reader has not experienced the types of situations Melody has, then what I’d like them to take away is understanding and empathy for those who have. A recognition that it is not the fault of the victim, but that of the perpetrator.
For those who have experienced the abuse, I’d like them to recognize they are not to blame, it isn’t their fault, and they did nothing wrong. And if they have been rendered silent, my hope is that they can find a safe haven where they can find their voice and with it peace.
What was your biggest challenge when writing this piece?
Framing the story from the point of view of a main character who doesn’t speak. :) It would have been much easier to change point of views and give other characters a chance to share the story. But I wanted the reader to share in Melody’s experience right from the beginning, where the wall of silence is palpable. And if the character was non communicative, then I wanted to show that on the page, so felt that going into her thoughts was taking a liberty I shouldn’t. Of course, as she became comfortable and started opening up, I was able to go deeper into the skin of the character.
The other challenge I had to overcome is my deep and abiding fear of snakes. With her background of having been raised in a snake-handling church, the snakes were there throughout the story. So, I had to do my research and have watched more video than I’d care to say about snake-handling churches. One of the scenes deals with Melody caring for and nursing back to health a sick snake. It created an odd place in my head because I’m one of The only good snake is a dead snake. crowd, and the sympathetic feeling for the book snake was a weird thing.
Connect with Liana
Author Website: www.LianaGardner.com
Book Site: www.SpeakNoEvilNovel.com