Review + Teachers’ Notes: ‘Everything I’ve Never Said’
‘Everything I’ve Never Said’ is a bold book with a powerful voice that will connect with readers from 9+ and many adults.
Title: ‘Everything I’ve Never Said’
Author: Samantha Wheeler
Age Range: upper primary – lower secondary
Themes: Rett Syndrome; disability; diversity; voice; communication; resilience; family; siblings.
This book is told through the eyes of the main character Ava, who has Rett Syndrome and can’t talk. She understands everything, but no-one understands her. Ava would like nothing more than to tell her family she loves them, particularly her big sister Nic. Rett syndrome, seen almost exclusively in females, is a genetic disorder where the brain does not mature in the way it should. It is characterised by a lack of control over muscles and a range of limitations including repetitive hand movements and an inability to speak.
‘Everything I’ve Never Said’ is a moving and insightful novel which is both realistic about the challenges faced by families where disability and ability co-exist, and is full of warmth, humour and kindness. ‘Everything I’ve Never Said’ is based, in part, on Samantha Wheeler’s lived experience of her younger daughter who lives with Rett Syndrome. Samantha’s written words give her daughter a voice, and what a strong voice it is. ‘Everyone has a voice, whether or not they communicate in a conventional way and I wanted to convey that message to younger readers,’ says Wheeler. ‘Children with disabilities and the families who love them are rarely found in novels and one of my aims with this book was to create characters who are role-models, who show us that it’s okay to ask for help.’ You can read about the book launch of this fabulous book here.
About the Author
Samantha Wheeler lives in Brisbane, Queensland. She was born in London and moved to South Africa when she was five years old and adopted a pet tortoise. Samantha has written five books about Australian Animals and the environmental impacts that are bestowed upon them. Samantha Wheeler is also a keen horse owner and horse rider! You can read more about Samantha Wheeler in our interview here.
FOLLOW IT UP IN THE HOME, CLASSROOM OR LIBRARY
This book is one I’ve used often with Year Six Book Club and the discussion questions below are ones we have used.
- What character in the book would you want to meet and why?
- What did you like best about this book?
- What did you like least about this book?
- What would you say is the biggest message from this book?
- How do you really think Nicole feels about Ava? Why is it hard for Nicole to show her love for Ava at times? Does she have a right to be embarrassed about her sister?
- How would you feel and act if Ava was your sister?
- Ava wills herself many times not to scream. What is causing her to scream? Is there a common scenario that happens each time? What could be done to help her?
- Make a list of things that an 11 year old would like to do, see, watch or wear rather than The Wiggles, ABC Kids and purple clothing. Give Ava a voice.
- Why do you think the author wrote into the story about Ava’s dad having a stroke? How did it help the story from Ava’s perspective and from her Dad’s perspective?
- Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of:
11. Why is communication such a powerful tool? How does it assist you every day? What would you do if you could not talk? How would you get your point across?
CURRICULUM LINKED ACTIVITIES:
ENGLISH – Year 5
Responding to Literature
ACELT1690 Present a point of view about particular literary texts using appropriate metalanguage, and reflecting on the viewpoints of others
- posing and discussing questions, such as ‘Should this character have behaved as they did?’, and beginning to make balanced judgments about the dilemmas characters face and relative merit and harm
- Students select a section from the book where one of the main characters – Ava, Nicole, Mum, Dad etc show their true traits. Discuss this with a partner, ask questions about their actions and why they behaved that way. How did it add to the character’s persona? Record your findings and share with the class.
Example pages for discussion:
- P4+ Nic is angry at Ava for spilling the milkshake and screaming at her performance
- P16+ Wendy treating Ava badly/like a baby at school
- P27 +Ava pulling Bella’s hair
- P48+ Henry comes to help
- P78+ Nic thinks it’s a bad idea to send Ava to respite
- P81+ Ava’s first impression of Aimee
- P83+ Aimee chatting to Ava about what to do
- P97+ Ava is put in the timeout room by Wendy
ENGLISH – Year 5
Literature, Examining Literature
ACELT1610 Recognise that ideas in literary texts can be conveyed from different viewpoints, which can lead to different kinds of interpretations and responses
- identifying the narrative voice (the person or entity through whom the audience experiences the story) in a literary work, discussing the impact of first person narration on empathy and engagement
Ava narrates the story. Discuss:
- How do you think that this makes us feel towards Ava?
- Who else could narrate the story? Would our interpretation of the main characters change? How?
- Find a particular part in the book where Ava’s character really shone through. Rewrite it from another character’s point of view.
Choose one of the pages below or one of your choice:
- P120+ The session with behaviour therapist, Jin-soo
- P182+ The speech therapy appointment with Priyanka
ENGLISH – Year 6
Literature and Context
ACELT1613 Make connections between students’ own experiences and those of characters and events represented in texts drawn from different historical, social and cultural contexts
- Recognising the influence our different historical, social and cultural experiences may have on the meaning we make from the text and the attitudes we may develop towards characters, actions and events
Discuss with a partner or in a small group how you have reacted when you have seen somebody in public with a noticeable physical disability.
- Did you stare?
- Did you look the other way?
- How did you feel?
- Do you wish you could have reacted differently?
How has reading ‘Everything I’ve Never Said’ changed the way you perceive people with disabilities and how you might react next time?
- If given the opportunity would you chat to that person?
- Give them a smile?
- Chat with their carer?
- Offer to help them?
Write about how this book has changed your perception of people with disabilities.
- Or do you know somebody with a disability or are you a person with a disability? How do they/you feel when they/you are treated differently? Share your experiences.
ENGLISH – Year 6
Interpreting, analysing, evaluating
ACELT1801 Analyse strategies authors use to influence readers
- Identify how authors use language to position the reader and give reasons
Brainstorm as a class or individually how Samantha Wheeler has influenced us as the reader. Consider and find examples where appropriate:
- Using Ava as the narrator
- Language features
- Problems that occurred (eg: Dad having a stroke)
Discuss how if these things did not occur in the story, how would it have changed your view and how could it have changed the story.
Some of Samantha Wheeler’s other books can be seen here.