Silent To The Bone by E. L. Konigsburg.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, 2000.

13 year old Branwell is speechless when his baby half-sister suffers a head injury and slips into a coma. He dials 911, but cannot speak, cannot explain what happened. He is sent to the Juvenile Behavioral Center, because the children's au pair blames him for the injury. Branwell's dad asks his old friend Connor to visit him. They had been friends since nursery school, until around the time the au pair came to stay with the family. Connor knows at once there is much to be explained and visits daily to try and help Branwell tell his story.

The story is an unusual mystery, in that the events are nothing like they first appear. It takes Connor's persistence in communicating with Branwell to draw the truth out. Branwell remains silent until Connor knows the whole truth. In between visits, Connor investigates to find evidence supporting Branwell's side of the story. He starts to investigate, with the help of his much older half-sister, before Branwell reveals anything, because he does not believe he would purposefully hurt Nikki. He learns quickly that Branwell needs someone to speak for him, and investigate. There are two crucial witnesesses that have not offered their knowledge.

Branwell's situation is difficult. Perhaps, he worries that he will not be believed if he speaks the truth. Perhaps, he is ashamed of a secret. And just maybe, he is feeling like he no longer belongs in his family, since his dad remarried and has a new baby. Branwell sends Connor to his sister Margaret, knowing that Margaret understands about stepmothers and the loss of a father's affection. This family relationship is intertwined with the mystery. It is an equally important theme.

Au pairs were a popular idea in the 1990s. It was an opportunity for foreign travel for the au pairs and possibly cheaper and more focused, personal, responsible care for the children, like a governess. With most moms working, this was an important issue, and it seemed like a good solution. But, an injury to a child brought up the question of safety and trust.

This is an excellent story. It is complex, with the different themes involved, and has a high level of anticipation. The characters are strong, varied, and feel like they are themselves. There isn't just one story here. It feels like life happening. I saw the book years ago and was interested, but not sure I wanted to read social issues at that time. While those issues are there, it is a telling of life, a story. It doesn't feel like a lesson, like many social issues books do.

related-mute, emotional problems, remarriage, brothers and sisters, babysitters, friendship, communication, adolescence, shame
RL=6th and up

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