May 24, 2012


by Caroline Wissing
Thistledown Press
241 pp.
Ages 14+

Even before Annabel becomes voiceless, her life is tenuous, though virtually tethered to the very mother who causes its deficiencies.  Abandonning Annabel at age 5 for a boyfriend, leaving her to be rescued by the police and to move in with Granny, Annabel's mother pops in intermittently, always with ephemeral cheer and a new boyfriend and the promise to return for her daughter.  Unfortunately, the last time Annabel sees her mother, during the Christmas holidays of her Grade 7 year, is the night Mama and new beau Julian ransack Granny's apartment looking for money and Granny is murdered.

Voiceless now, Annabel goes into foster care and is placed at the Noble Spirit Farm and Horse Sanctuary of Mary and Bobby Gervais.  While becoming a foster child can be the beginning of more transience, Annabel's placement provides her with some comfort, especially with a rescued horse, Jett.  Now being called Ghost, Annabel joins other foster children at the farm: Tully, a teen boy with dwarfism; Char, a street-wise young prostitute; and Big Jerome, an Ojibwa teen whose little brother killed himself with a rifle carelessly stored by his negligent, alcoholic parents. But the arrival of Graydon Fox (whose history is unclear) and the sexual relationship he and Ghost form leads Ghost away from the farm, into the savage, drink- or drug-addled world of Graydon's acquaintance, Cooper.

Annabel/Ghost's world is gritty and dangerous, evoked well by Caroline Wissing's text.  Profanities, alcohol, drugs, sex, prostitution, rape, theft, abuse and arson are all part of the fabric of Annabel/Ghost's life.
"The room was abuzz with people going about the individual business, everyone with their drunk or drugged out tunnel vision, caring only about themselves." (pg. 151)
Imagine believing that "Going to a dance felt like suicide to me" (pg. 121) or that "I felt like I was walking around in a prison full of dead eyes" (pg. 100).  The few tender instances are so fleeting that it's unbelievable that Ghost has only lost her voice, not her essence.  But that essence is still always present, knowing and doing the right thing instinctively though problematic.  Annabel/Ghost finds a way to get the police involved in investigating Cooper, without involving herself.  Moreover, while others around her were using drugs, Ghost will not use them, afraid of becoming her mother.  And when Francine, an unpleasant girl sleeping with Cooper becomes pregnant and Cooper performs an ad hoc abortion, Ghost finds a way to get Francine to the hospital. 

Voiceless is not an easy read.  It's not a coming of age story in which a girl learns who she is and develops into that person, although that does essentially happen for Annabel.  But Voiceless provides greater messages, offering the reader the evidence that voicelessness (or blindness or paraplegia or any other disability) is not in itself the tragedy. The tragedy is in the context.  Ghost may be voiceless but she is substantive and never stronger than when she is voiceless.  Annabel finds the means to communicate and right wrongs without the spoken word, ultimately letting her voicelessness propel her to a future in which she has a say, guaranteeing her a happier life, finally.


  1. This sounds like an emotionally challenging read. I like the message that the context is the tragedy.

  2. I read this book and it was very amazing and it changed my view on life. I recommend this book to everyone :)

  3. This is an amazing book. I highly recommend it.