First published in 1987, So Much To Tell You was the debut novel of Australian author John Marsden, probably best known for his epic Tomorrow series. Our narrator is Marina, a fourteen year old so traumatised by an event in her recent past that she can't bring herself to talk to anyone. Ever. But while the characters around her can't hear her voice, the reader does. At boarding school her class are all given diaries and told they must write in them, although the contents will be private. Reluctant at first, Marina gradually reveals more and more about herself and what happened to leave her so silent and scarred.
In her diary entries, Marina's voice is tentative and often evasive. As with people you know in real life, she'll often skirt around a subject or only give you half the story. There are times when you know something has upset her deeply, but not because she tells you what happened - you know because she'll simply say she doesn't feel like writing today, or she'll suddenly revert to describing only the most trivial dorm news. As a reader it's impossible not to bond with her: to feel frustration at her self-imposed isolation, to grow hopeful when she seems to make a breakthrough, and to find your eyes welling with tears as she recounts tiny kindnesses from the other girls around her. Because while the girls in her dorm are your average sometimes-self-obsessed, sometimes-brutal teenagers, they also demonstrate empathy and thoughtfulness and consideration that'll have the reader choking up as much as it would Marina, if she weren't so intent on keeping her feelings under control. Even though it sometimes seems to the outside world that she isn't making any progress, we can tell that she is. In her diary, she's finding her voice.
Although fairly short, Marina's story is one that will leave readers mulling over its themes for far longer than it takes to read it. Its treatment of Marina's disfigurement is sensitive and insightful: as someone who has lost her old face forever, she'll never be exactly the same person again. In some ways the ending is a problematic one: because while a new chapter begins for Marina, it's challenging to reconcile her perception of the situation with pre-existing ideas we may hold about perpetrators of serious assault. Her apportion of blame might not match ours, and we might be puzzled by her choice of who to forgive and who not to forgive, but in a way that lends an even greater impact to her story. It's a book that will mean different things to different readers: whether it be a reminder of the ways in which children can sometimes be the collateral damage of acrimonious divorce, or an inspiring example of love and forgiveness. It's about healing and compassion and hope, and in its own quiet way it's gripping. You can't begin to read it and not care what happens to this girl.
Powerful and fascinating, So Much To Tell You is an exploration of the way that trauma can change a person. Anyone who wants a book to make them really feel something should read it.
Out: 1987 and available worldwide. Hurrah.