March 27, 2015

Review: Things I'll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves

Things I'll Never Say Edited by Ann Angel
Stories by Ann Angel, Kerry Cohen, Louise Hawes, Varian Johnson, erica l. kaufman, Ron Koertge, E. M. Kokie, Chris Lynch, Kekla Magoon, Zoë Marriott, Katy Moran, J. L. Powers, Mary Ann Rodman, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ellen Wittlinger
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

Ann Angel's first outing editing an anthology is an impressive venture.  She's gathered a wonderful mix of authors, from established award winners like Chris Lynch and Ellen Wittlinger to talented up to a debut author.  The authors aren't just diverse in their name recognition either.  THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY: STORIES ABOUT OUR SECRET SELVES dwells in those experiences that are hard to talk about, that people like to never think about.

It's fitting that it is a very diverse anthology, not only the authors, but also the main characters, who are black and white and Asian and gay and bisexual and transgender and suffering from mental illness.  Although not all of the stories are realistic, they do strive for a realism about the teen experience, and the multiplicity of points of view represented help support that anthology-wide tone.

I'll admit that the anthology started a little slow for me.  The usually reliable Ellen Wittlinger didn't knock it out of the park with "The We-Are-Like-Everybody-Else Game," the story of a girl with a mom who hoards and a friend who might not deserve the title (but one who does).  "Cupid's Beaux" by Cynthia Leitich Smith is charming, and a definite delight to me as a fan of her Tantalize series.  Will anthology readers who haven't read that series be a little lost?

"When We Were Wild" by Louise Hawes and "Call Me!" by Ron Koertge are both delightfully loose stories, slightly naughty and shaggy with narrators who struggle with their knowledge of their own cruelty.  Of the sadder stories, I think I liked "Easter" by Mary Ann Rodman best, for the way it captured loss and teenage confusion and dashed hopes.

"Quick Change" by E.M. Kokie is a little gem about a con artist in a family of con artists, and I want an entire novel about what happens next.  (Short stories have been made into novels before!  I can hope!)  "Storm Clouds Fleeing From the Wind" by Zoë Marriott is the standout of the collection.  It's an achingly lovely story set in a kingdom that isn't, about a dancer who cannot be matched, especially when furious.  Her bio in the back of THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY says that it is related to her novel SHADOWS ON THE MOON, which is now a must-read for me.

Honestly, I could tell you good things about almost all of the stories in the collection.  There were a handful that I didn't care for, but there were also two excellent stories and more than half of the stories were good-to-great.  I think that's a good ratio for an anthology.  With THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY, Ann Angel shows great promise as an anthologist as well as an author.

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