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.
Raised in a snake-handling church where indigenous belief systems mix with modern Christianity, Melody Fisher is a half Native American, quarter Scottish, and quarter black orphan. Before her parents’ deaths—one by accident and the other, arguably, by grief—her daddy caught and handled rattlers and other venomous serpents for the church where Melody sang with her parents. Melody’s voice is God’s gift and music is in her soul; she can even charm the snakes her father catches through her songs—a curious and seemingly divine feat considering snakes have no ears (at least not in the traditional sense). But Melody's voice is also her greatest burden, because when she asks her mama about the strange man she saw walking with her along the river, her mama is almost immediately struck down by one of her father's rattlers. From there, tragedy follows in the wake of Melody’s voice until, eventually, she stops speaking altogether.
After years in the system and a series of foster homes that have gone from bad to worse, Melody Fisher has lost her voice. At sixteen, she’s survived more trauma and tragedy that many people experience in a lifetime, and now she’s on trial for stabbing a classmate. But, even faced with losing her freedom, she cannot find the strength to speak after being silent for nearly two years. She can’t speak, because every time she has told the truth something terrible has happened. Now, Melody won't even use her voice to clear her name—or tell the truth about why she stuck a pair of scissors in Troy Alexander. Even so, music still lives in Melody’s soul, and with the help of her court-ordered therapist, she learns to communicate through a massive song library on a portable music player. Through the restorative power of song, Melody eventually finds her voice and speaks the truth that has weighed heavy in her heart.
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.
The terrible tragedies and stifling trauma that Melody has experienced are enough to make the reader want to reach through the pages and gather the poor girl up in our collective arms. And, while younger readers should certainly be forewarned of weighty topics like grief, abuse, and rape that rear their rattles in this story, all are tactfully and mindfully done, proving Gardner’s ability to convey emotion and complexity without catering to shock and surprise. Likewise, Gardner’s technical execution is flawless as she alternates between multiple timelines to piece together Melody’s story, giving just enough information to keep the story moving without bogging itself down in exposition.
In fact, you might say that, like the music that lives in Melody, Speak No Evil is itself something of a song bound within the pages of a story. With powerful lyrics, perfectly paced prose, and artful cadence, Gardner gives voice to a character that has become disconnected from her own, while reminding us all that silence does not equal consent, and that the truth, even (and perhaps especially) when it hurts, must be spoken.
TRUTH IS THE HARBINGER OF HELL
What if every time you told the truth, evil followed?
My name is Melody Fisher. My daddy was a snake handler in Appalachia until Mama died. Though years have passed, I can still hear the rattle before the strike that took her from me.
And it’s all my fault.
Since then, I’ve been passed around from foster home to foster home. I didn’t think anything could be as bad as losing Mama.
I was wrong.
But I will not speak of things people have done to me. Every time I do, worse evil follows. Now, the only thing I trust is what saved me years ago. Back when I would sing the snakes calm ...