What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
“I realize 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.”
My first thought after reading What to Say Next was this: Kasie West, move over. I think West has dominated as my favorite author for YA contemporary (partly because she pumps out books so quickly) However, Buxbaum is fast on her way to being my new favorite. Tell Me Three Things was already on my favorites this, and not this one gets to join its ranks. I will read anything by her now. If you are a fan of YA contemporaries, don’t wait too long to read this. It is sooooo goooood. Heartwarming and devastating at the same time.
WTSN is about Kit whose dad just died in a car accident, and in an attempt to avoid the pressure of acting normal again sits with the guy, David, who always sits alone. Expecting to be able to sit without expectations and without talking, Kit finds an unexpected friendship with David. David finds his world expanding exponentially as he comes to befriend Kit.
Guys this book was both heartwarming and devastating at the same time. At first, I thought this might fall into the ugly duckling trope… you know the one where one character helps the shy character break their mold, be popular, or just live up to all their hidden potential. Now while Kit eventually did break David out of his shell, she didn’t expect him to or want him to change. It was the experience of befriending Kit that helped David change. The change wasn’t to make more friends or be popular; it was to embrace himself as he was.
“Usually they end with me promising to try harder, though I never really know what I’m promising to try harder to do.
Be normal I think.
Be like the neurotypical, which is another way of saying “everyone else.”
Be less like me.
I no longer want to be less like me.”
Truly, the peculiar friendship that they build is what drives this story; the awkwardness and coping with the heavy matters as well as what can be the most trivial things to the “normal” kids.
What’s also great about this book as a YA contemporary about a boy and girl is that it is not largely driven by romance or hatred. Their friendship was brought to them by the death of Kit’s dad and a huge part of the book is how being friends with David acts that helps Kit get not necessarily over it, but through it, along with the other issues she has going on. It’s David’s awkward directness that helps her feel like she doesn’t have to pretend she’s okay.
I love David Drucker. Of all the boys in any YA contemporary book, I think he is my favorite. It isn’t because he’s good looking, smart, or just generally a sweet guy (in his own way). It was his inner monologues. David takes everything literally.
Also, the way David approaches his problems are so logical, even though sometimes his logic isn’t how we understand it. It’s the moments when he doesn’t understand why things are happening the way they are that pushes him overboard, and that is probably the most devastating part because it’s in those moments when you realize the only person who can really help him is himself pushing outside of his normal understanding.
“…let her no shit pass without comment, even though she knows it’s an expression I do not like. It makes me think of constipation, which makes me think about grunting, my least favorite noise, after squawking and chewing. I also have a list of favorite noises. It has one item on it: Kit’s laugh.”
Kit’s a bit in over her head emotionally, and I feel sorry for her situation. What I loved about Kit was that she didn’t have any ulterior motives or negative feelings towards David to start. She is aware of how he has been treated in the past or how he’s reacted in stressful situations, never made it her mission to be any sort of bully towards him. With that being said, she still fell into the category of kids that ignore him, until that is he changes her view. In her way she helps David experience teenage life like he’s never had the opportunity to and he broadens her narrow way of looking at life.
I feel like this book takes on the bullying aspect without it being the sole focus. It’s more of the reaction from David that we experience. In this situation it is a much highly irregular situation as it wasn’t just because he was poor, ugly, or just unpopular. It truly was his personality that triggers the way people treated him…not that it’s any excuse. The sad part is everyone knows that this kind of treatment happens and it’s incredibly heart breaking. It’s heart breaking for both people like David, for the kids that just don’t know any better, and for the kids who pretend it isn’t happening. I think that’s where the book really hits home, because let’s be real, its actually small amount of people who are the true bully, it’s the rest of us that stand by that make the vast majority and why people can relate to Kit, even if the rest of her circumstances aren’t the same.