WHAT TO SAY NEXT adds new depth to Julie Buxbaum’s YA catalog!
Julie Buxbaum solidifies her knack for heartfelt Young Adult novels with What To Say Next, which follows two characters who form an unexpected connection in the wake of a loss.
One month after the death of her father, everyone expects Kit Lowell to be getting over it. As a way of getting away from their judgement, Kit finds herself sitting at a lunch table with only one other occupant– David Drucker, a quiet fellow student who Kit hasn’t really interacted with since childhood. Mostly, she sits there in hopes that David will let her have some space. He does, to a point, but curiosity eventually gets the better of him. His lack of social skills and genius-level intellect have led most of the student population to dub him as “the weird kid,” but soon, he’s striking up a repertoire with the nice, mildly popular girl he’s watched from afar for years.
David knows he isn’t neurotypical, but refuses to truly define it beyond that (which I thought was a good move for the story.) He is honest, perhaps brutally so, and doesn’t treat Kit like she’s fragile. Kit appreciates his openness despite some awkwardness thrown in, and the two develop a special relationship in fits and starts. So Kit brings David in on a secret project: She wants to study the car accident that killed her father to figure out exactly what happened, and find out what could have happened differently.
Kit feels very much like the standard every girl– fairly smart, a bit insecure, with a couple of close friends that she’s had since childhood. Culturally, she’s half-Indian and Sikh, which adds some interesting duality to her character, especially in a suburban setting. However, it’s not a focal point in the story. Through her relationship with David, she’s just starting to recognize problematic behaviors in old friends, but also starts to see the good in people that she didn’t always recognize. She’s pleasantly surprised by the feelings she’s developing for him, but there’s also a whirlwind of other emotions affecting her life. Add in “The Accident Project,” and things start to get messy.
On top of that, Kit and David’s relationship begins to have adverse effects on their lives as students who have mostly ignored David throughout high school begin to target him again. He’s a character you want to protect, because he’s suffering through these scenarios for no reason other than being “different.” Some of the scenarios are tough to read. This book is not always an easy one in that sense, but it’s a meaningful one.
This story is mostly character-driven and there are some really strong secondary roles in each character’s family, including Kit’s mom, whose seemingly perfect life unravels in the wake of her husband’s death, and David’s sister, Lauren aka Miney, who helps David manage his social interactions and high school politics while failing to keep on track in her own life.
There are certainly a few quibbles to be had: A She’s All That moment that’s a little hard to swallow; a mild open-endedness to this that worked for me, but I suspect will be tough for readers who prefer neatly packaged endings.
I loved Julie Buxbaum’s first YA novel, Tell Me Three Things, but What To Say Next hit me harder. It’s deeper, more emotional, and a quick read. Not to mention that just like life, it throws a couple curveballs at you. If you’re looking for a contemporary with a little extra punch, look no further.
RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
What To Say Next hits bookshelves on July 11, 2017. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.
Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.
KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.
DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her.
When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?