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- author Jackie French

Friday 16 September 2022

Review: No Words

From the author who gave us the heart-jolting, Exit Through The Gift Shop, comes another show-stopping middle grade drama. 

No Words pulls no punches telling the story of 12-year-old refugee, Aria and moves with the same tumultuous pace as Master’s former novel.

Don’t equate the tempo of this narrative with a rushed outcome however because Aria’s tale is told with measured sensitivity and precision. It just happens to be in the same voice as your typical upper primary school kid with as much energetic beat and bounce. Which is ironic when the story centres around Aria’s distinct lack of voice.

Aria hails from old Iran, Persia having fled his country with his older brother and father. There was no time for goodbyes. No time to mourn the loss of his beloved mother. No time to digest the horror of their situation. We learn through the broken recall of Aria that his mother was persecuted for her liberated feminist beliefs. But that is not the main thrust of this story.

Hero and her whacky bestie, Jaz are driven by their sense of justice to stick up for the little guy. When wordless Aria turns out to be that little guy, they feel compelled to help but the school’s apex bully, Rufus the Doofus, is too daunting to face down. Doofus and his goon squad pick on Aria with voracious relentlessness rendering Hero and Jaz as speechless as Aria. If courage is one of the characteristics of being a hero, then Hero feels she is letting Aria's side down big time.

Despite this failing, both she and Jaz befriend the mute boy, eventually drawing him and his family into their domestic circles and thus, inching ever closer to disclosing the mystery of his missing voice. But bullying and schoolyard friendships are not the main elements of this story either. Neither is the delicate deference paid to Hero’s dad who is in a parallel battle of his own thanks to the ups and downs of his mental disorder.

The theme of No Words, if there must be one, is in fact so cleverly nuanced that none of the issues touched on overshadows another. Forced immigration, women’s rights, humanity, bravery, friendship, and tolerance all get a nod in such a way that kid readers will organically grasp because of the incredible array of emotions used to portray them. Belly shaking humour (thanks Jaz) sits comfortably alongside terrible grief. Anxiety in a variety of forms blossoms frequently but is sheared back with heart-warming compassion and kindness. And dread is smothered by absolute awe when Aria’s true voice finally resounds, loud and true and sure.

This is a story about finding the words, your words, and the courage to speak them. It is a story about storytelling and the power of words whether whispered, shouted or merely thought and their importance in preserving that most significant and mighty word of all. Love.

It is a tale that has made me fall in love with Maryam Master’s gift of storytelling just a little bit more and one I am sure primary schoolers will savour with full and eager hearts because she speaks their speak so indescribably well. Older tween and teen reluctant readers will also be comfortable reading this for the same reason. Bravo!

Title: No Words
Author: Maryam Master
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia, $16.99
Publication Date: 26 July 2022
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760983529
For ages: 10 – 14
Type: Middle Grade Fiction

This review first appeared on Dim's Write Stuff as a DIM'SreVIEWS review.