Ellen’s seen what the world has to offer her, and she’s not having it. Guys will always chase the prettier girls. Teachers you trust will prey on you. And parents who are supposed to put you first will tumble into addiction and apathy. But she has her brother, a safe and stable home, and maybe even a future that’s better than all this — if she can just get through the present. So when a confident boy she can’t brush off becomes part of her everyday life, she’s twisted in knots and reluctant to take any more chances. Only he’s not giving up so easily.
But... I can’t wrap my head around the author’s pen name. It’s like it was plucked off one of those late ’80s bodice ripper romance novels that plague modern garage sales. Someone actually chose it. For young adult books. Really.
The Verdict: Romance novels for any age group typically fall into one of just a few categories. There’s lust/hate that turns into love, poor girls and rich guys, someone who’s in love with the best friend, the damaged guy and the good girl, the fake or arranged relationship budding into something more, and the wounded girl saved by the guy who smiles sunlight. There are a few others, I’m sure, but 99% of what I read falls into those categories. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy them, and they obviously work, or authors wouldn’t keep writing them. But it’s rare and wonderful to find a story that doesn’t stick to the formula but still bleeds magic. And that’s what Louder than Words is.
Ellen and Rex both have their share of family issues to deal with, but they’re still just regular teenagers navigating that messy time in life where they’re young enough to keep making mistakes and old enough to see the world for the sometimes miserable place it is. Ellen handles her reality with snark and cynicism, and since she knows she’ll never be the prettiest girl in the room, even though she’s initially attracted to and intrigued by Rex, she doesn’t bother trying to impress him. In fact, his one attempt to turn them into more than friends goes disastrously wrong, and it’s not long before Rex is dating the girl who is every annoying thing Ellen is not. What grows instead is a strange and comfortable friendship. They walk to and from their summer jobs and then school. They hang out from time to time, and they just sort of insinuate themselves into each other’s routines. And the more time she spends with Rex, the more Ellen regrets throwing away her chance to be more to him.
Rex is very much a teenage boy. He’s observant and insightful at a few rare times, but mostly he’s ruled by testosterone and obliviousness. He’s not really what anyone would call romantic, but he is a good friend to her, and Ellen’s herself around him instead of worrying about what people think of her mother or her life now. The only thing she really hides from him is that situation with the cool, handsome teacher that turned out to be a lecherous creep. But even that situation is presented with a nice dose of gritty realism, showing Ellen to be a confused teenager who succumbed to curiosity and the attention but ultimately realized the betrayal for what it was.
The story is mostly a snapshot of Ellen’s life from day to day, where small things in a teen’s life are the ultimate drama and insecurities have her walled off and afraid to take chances. But it’s that simplicity of the story that makes it so addictive. Unlike many of the novels I read, it doesn’t feel like a reciting of whatever plot-spinning events will lead to the eventual happily ever after. It feels more like an intimate look into the life and mind of a rather typical teenage girl, complete with self-doubt and judgement of those around her. And of course, there’s the growing feelings she develops for Rex and the subtly brilliant way the perfect ending was delivered.
If you’re looking for high drama and over-the-top teenage hijinks, this is not the book. But if you’re looking for something that feels real, that binds you to the main character and reveling in her cynicism, even as her closet romantic teen tries to shine through, this just might be the perfect book. Louder than Love accurately captures the voice and thoughts of high school girl caught up in family drama, real world disappointment, and first love.