Love and Loss: A Review of Things We Couldn’t Say

Things We Couldn’t Say
Jay Coles
Scholastic Press
September 21, 2021
Ages 12+

For 17-year-old Giovanni “Gio” Zander, life has been an emotional rollercoaster. At age 9, his mother abandoned him and his younger brother. Then, at 16, he knew without a doubt he was bisexual. Now, in his junior year of high school, he is struggling with how to be out and comfortable, while also keeping his feelings of grief about his mom at bay. However, when his mother reaches out, wanting to spend time with him, his whole world collapses. Gio grapples with his newfound feelings of anger at her sudden reappearance. Plus, new kid David, who just moved across the street, is stirring up feelings in Gio that he’s finding hard to walk away from. Gio must find the strength to face his mother and learn why she left him so long ago. Maybe this will help him follow his heart, be free, and live in his truth.

Through characters’ personal experiences, past and present, Coles dives deep into the complexities of love, loss, abandonment, family, race, and LGBTQ relationships. As David (a white teenager) and Gio explore their feelings for each other, and Gio and his family deal with the return of Gio’s mother, we see how these themes intertwine and affect everyday life. The story reads as a cathartic dropping of thoughts, unfiltered and raw. Gio’s narration is not neat or grammatically correct, with slang throughout. This catharsis illustrates how complicated Gio’s feelings are as he struggles through hardship. His constant fear of someone finding out how he feels about David shines a light on the fact that even though we have come a long way, LGBTQ kids still have a hard time accepting themselves and gaining acceptance from others. Black Culture is well-integrated into the story through the personalities of the Black characters and the neighborhood in which Gio lives. Coles shows the vibrant environment of the Black church with descriptions of songs played, and language used by pastor Charles Zander, Gio’s father. He demonstrates the differences between Gio and his white friends and relays how important it is for white people to be allies when people of color are wrongfully accused. Coles’ Things We Couldn’t Say is a timely story packed with conversations that we all need to hear.