Title: Whisper To Me
Author: Nick Lake
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s
Synopsis: A remarkable story of strange beauty and self-discovery from Printz Award winner Nick Lake
Cassie is writing a letter to the boy whose heart she broke. She’s trying to explain why. Why she pushed him away. Why her father got so angry when he saw them together. Why she disappears some nights. Why she won’t let herself remember what happened that long-ago night on the boardwalk. Why she fell apart so completely.
Desperate for his forgiveness, she’s telling the whole story of the summer she nearly lost herself. She’s hoping he’ll understand as well as she now does how love—love for your family, love for that person who makes your heart beat faster, and love for yourself—can save you after all.
What kind of research did you do on mental health in preparation of this book?
Lots. It was really important to me that Cassie’s journey should be as ‘real’ as possible – including the arc of hopefulness towards the end. (That isn’t a spoiler, I personally think all YA should end on a note of hope.) I have a lot of life experience of mental illness and mental health services, but not of voice-hearing in particular, and I wanted that aspect of the book to feel true – in terms not only of Cassie’s feelings and symptoms but also of the medical experiences she has, the treatment she receives, and the advice and so on. I think the thing that triggered my interest initially was that I did a masters degree in phonetics and one of the things I learnt is that if you scan the brain of someone hearing a voice that isn’t there, you see exactly the same brain activity as when they’re hearing a real voice. So they are hearing it, by any measure of the word – there’s no imagination involved. We talk about ‘the voices in my head’, that’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but they’re not in the head. They’re outside, coming through the ears, like any other voice. That was something that always lodged with me.
So I knew a little bit about the neuroscience of it, but then when I started the book I realized how little I knew about anything else, so I read books and academic papers about voice hearing, as well as first person accounts by people who had gone through it, which was how I discovered that there’s a growing consensus that many if not most voice hearers are not schizophrenic (as Cassie is not), but have usually reacted to some kind of trauma by splitting off this voice that talks to them. I also consulted a psychologist and a psychiatrist who read the book and gave some suggestions, from both perspectives. One of the interesting things about this phenomenon is that there’s sometimes tension between the approaches of the two disciplines, which in a very reductive view kind of boil down to drugs vs. therapy. (In reality of course it’s much more nuanced and grayscale than that.) But I wanted the book to reflect that tension, while also trying not to make it a polemic: it’s Cassie’s story, the story of a fictional character, it’s not meant to espouse any one view.
One of the amazing things that happened in the writing actually is that one of the mental health professionals who read the book diagnosed Cassie’s dad with PTSD. That hadn’t been something I consciously meant to put in – I mean, I knew he’d been in Afghanistan and had been wounded, but I hadn’t explicitly drawn that link with his present mental health, because I was so in Cassie’s head and I could only ‘see’ the him that she saw. But as soon as they said it I saw it was true and then I went back through and deliberately drew it more into the overall tapestry. It ended up being a really useful detail too because, for the purposes of the plot, Cassie had to be going to group therapy without her dad knowing, and it turned out that by law her dad would have to be informed, unless he had some kind of issue of his own that might make him a risk. Like untreated PTSD.
(As an aside, I also had to do quite a lot of reading about the Navy SEALs and Afghanistan and SEAL training – and was lucky to find that the Marketing Director at Bloomsbury had an ex-SEAL friend.)
So firstly, I had someone diagnose a fictional character with a mental illness, which is a first for me at least. And then that diagnosis turned out to be essential for the mechanics of the plot to be as realistic as possible. Writing can be weird.
Meet The Author
My name is Nick and I write and edit books for young adults. My first YA novel IN DARKNESS, was published by Bloomsbury in 2012 and won the Michael L Printz Award for Excellence in YA Literature. I also wrote a book called HOSTAGE THREE about a girl kidnapped by Somali pirates.
THERE WILL BE LIES is coming in January 15 and is about a girl who learns that everything she knows is a lie. To say it’s a book with a twist in the story would be a massive understatement. There is also a talking coyote in it.
I live with my wife, daughter and son in a 16th century house in England with almost 19th century amenities. Sometimes the heating even works.
I like: reading, art, music, food containing sugar, cities at night, the countryside in the daytime, vintage furniture, modern standards of heating (see above), travelling.
I dislike: being sick, failing, being underdressed in the cold, being overdressed in the heat, the unnecessary suffering of children, being punched in the face.
3 Finished Copies of Whisper To Me
Follow the rest of the tour!