Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Words We Don't Say

Rate this book
Joel Higgins has 901 unsent text messages saved on his phone.

Ever since the thing that happened, there are certain people he hasn't been able to talk to in person. Sure, he shows up at school, does his mandatory volunteer hours at the soup kitchen, and spends pretty much every moment thinking about Eli, the most amazing girl in the world. But that doesn't mean he's keeping it together, or even that he has any friends.

So instead of hanging out with people in real life, he drafts text messages. But he never presses send.

As dismal as sophomore year was for Joel, he doesn't see how junior year will be any better. For starters, Eli doesn't know how he feels about her, his best friend Andy's gone, and he basically bombed the SATs. But as Joel spends more time at the soup kitchen with Eli and Benj, the new kid whose mouth seems to be unconnected to his brain, he forms bonds with the people they serve there-including a veteran they call Rooster-and begins to understand that the world is bigger than his own pain.

279 pages, Hardcover

First published October 2, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

K.J. Reilly

2 books47 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
168 (28%)
4 stars
220 (37%)
3 stars
141 (23%)
2 stars
52 (8%)
1 star
10 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 146 reviews
Profile Image for Dianne.
6,766 reviews588 followers
September 20, 2018
Joel Higgins undergoes a coming of age and social awakening while doing mandatory volunteer hours at a soup kitchen. Between pining for the girl he loves, communicating his thoughts through unsent text messages and building connections with the people served at the soup kitchen, Joel’s world shrinks into perspective in comparison with the world around him.

Dramatic, comedic, heart aching and sincere, WORDS WE DON’T SAY by K.J. Reilly is a chaotic journey through a teen boy’s mind as he traverses the minefields of growing up in the maze called life. All isn’t so bad once you begin to figure it out and accept that the differences and even the rules all around can be the best parts.

This is a treasure to read, share and enjoy!

I received a complimentary ARC edition from Disney-Hyperion!

Publisher: Disney Hyperion (October 2, 2018)
Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Genre: YA Coming of Age
Print Length: 288 pages
Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
For Reviews, Giveaways, Fabulous Book News, follow: http://tometender.blogspot.com
Profile Image for Judy Beetem.
372 reviews
August 13, 2018
Words We Don't Say is my favorite book of all those I read and reviewed this summer. I wish I could give it more that 5 stars. K. J. Reilly does a fantastic job of capturing the language and technology of modern high school students. Joel is an angry seventeen-year-old. His best friend Andy is no longer in the picture - we find out why as the story progresses. Joel is working at the local soup kitchen accompanied by Eli , a girl he's loved since second grade, and Benj, an odd boy who supposedly killed his parents and now lives with his aunt. Joel modified his counselor's suggestion that he journal, to writing text messages that he saves as drafts and never sends.. The title refer to the texts. He texts the Principal of the High School with hilarious suggestions for improving the school ( great ideas really). He texts Eli love notes and confessions, and he texts Andy notes on his life and whatever is on his mind. As Joel and his friends spend more time at the soup kitchen, they get to know the regulars and learn about veterans, PTSD and many of the injustices of the world. Joel refers to his parents by their first names - Jackson and Jesus, Mary (you'll have to read the book for the explanation). He also has a 5-year-old brother. His interactions with them are real and made we want to be a part of their family. Joel is a really good guy with problems with his anger. He's able to work through them with the help of his friends and his family in ways that are funny and heart-breaking while staying true to character..

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. It's hard to convey how special and entertaining it is without giving away key points. I plan to buy several copies for my library as soon as comes available in October, as well as some for gifts. I hope you enjoy it as much as it did. I'm positive middle and high school students will love it.
Profile Image for Chandra Claypool (WhereTheReaderGrows).
1,553 reviews321 followers
September 23, 2018
This book begins in the middle of a shift at a soup kitchen. We are introduced to Joel and his many, MANY rambling thoughts and we are never taken out of his head space. Ever since "the thing that happened", he's been unable to talk to certain people. Instead, he drafts text messages to them and never sends them. (I actually tried and can't do this on my phone!)

I'll be honest, I am not the reader for this book. I like the unique premise and the unique writing style but at the end of the day, it inhibited me from fully appreciating what this book was trying to do. The author hits on a variety of deep topics - veterans, PTSD, religion, discrimination, etc. However, it all became too much throughout the read. I understand that the writing is coming from Joel's head and with that, how the inner workings of a teenage boy trying to deal with tough subject would react. I just didn't care for it. Even in the "funnier" scenes where there's supposed to be some levity, it just didn't work.

I did like the friendships between the characters. Benji, Eli, Joel - Joel's relationship with his parents and younger brother. All of these were fantastic. We've all written a text and never sent it. We all have things we want to say to certain people but never say them. We all have had that friend we didn't particularly care for at the beginning but somehow became a close or best friend. And we have all not agreed with a friend's belief but there's still that bond and love between us regardless of our opposing views.

The first 45 pages seemed to go nowhere and then we finally get introduced to something that makes it more interesting. However, it did drag throughout to get the point at the end and the thing that happened and what is actually going on... kind of. Weirdly I found myself the most irritated with the talking of Burning Man between Benji and Joel - it's not the way people mostly depict it... HOWEVER, I love the mention of the temple - which is a true thing and a place people go to find closure and serenity and for that, I love the author.

When it comes down to it, this is just a reader/book mismatch. I appreciate the theme and uniqueness of the book itself but the execution wasn't for my taste. I never connected with the characters or the storyline. A good read for teenagers/YA lovers who love the deeper inner monologues dealing with heavy, socially relevant issues.
Profile Image for B220.
329 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2018
I think I might secretly be Joel Higgins! Joel writes, but doesn't send, text messages to people (alive and dead) because he just can never come right out and say the things he's thinking. He texts his beautiful friend Eli, his principal, and his recently deceased best friend Andy. Joel is just trying to make it through high school after his best friend has died. Those words, though left unsaid, may be what saves Joel.

Joel volunteers at a soup kitchen with Eli where Joel meets Rooster, a PTSD suffering veteran who does not speak, but it seems to be at the kitchen where their relationship blossoms-relationship with both Eli and Rooster, (or becomes something more than nothing). Rooster ends up giving Joel a gun and that sets this story off in a crazy direction.

I really related to Joel, and I think a lot of kids will too. How often do we think things, want to say things, want to type things, and then not do it?

This book starts very differently than it ends. I like that about it. There are a few tear-jerking moments near the end as well that brings everything nicely to a close!
Profile Image for Kayla.
23 reviews3 followers
February 6, 2023
I liked the message/lesson, but the storyline was just messy.
Profile Image for Marcia (aka mpmarquesus).
403 reviews24 followers
November 1, 2018
OMG! I just Loved this book so much! I feel like I need to text all my friends and tell them that they need to read this book - although, unlike Joel Higgins, I will actually send all the texts.

The characters are so real. Our main character Joel is an anxious teenager, who happens to also be insecure and his thoughts fly at 100 miles a minute (oh, and he probably suffers from PTSD as well). We have Eli, the girl he's secretly in love with, but thinks that she's totally out of his league. There's Benj, the new boy that has no filter but turns out to have problems of his own (we all had a friend like that, right?). Alex, the genius that can't drive. Jacey, who is Joel's little brother and I just wish I could hug. Plus, the adults, parents and teachers who play an important part of the story and also felt amazingly authentic.

Joel made me laugh out loud and cry the next minute. Like any person that goes through trauma (teenager or not) he has difficulty accepting that not everything can be fixed. His dad tells him something like "it is what it is", which in Joel's mind, is just not fair. He tries to make sense of all the injustices in the world, while at the same time keeping all his emotions bottled up inside.

"We can feed them, but we can't fix them". The lady at the Soup Kitchen told him.

Joel was told that writing a journal would be a form of therapy to help him through this trauma. Nah, he writes texts that he saves as drafts and never sends. About 900 of them. To Eli, to his friend Andy and to the school principal.

The book deals with common problems going on in our society, such as banned books, PTSD, hunger, homeless, anxiety, depression and guns. You might ask, how can a story that deals with all of these issues be funny? Because of the dialogues, the ramblings and a lot of the situations are sarcastic and hilarious (you know, teenager style).

This is a beautiful coming of age story. Of how to move on after trauma. How to accept one's vulnerability and find hope. And finally, how to love.

Here's my final thought: Teenagers still have to read the same classic books that we all had to read back in High School. A teacher told me the other day that teenagers have lost interest in reading, but I have to disagree with that. I think that we need to give them books that they will connect with, instead of only classics. Words We Don't Say is a clear example of such a book. Please give a copy to a teenager. I know I will.
Profile Image for Brenda.
1,516 reviews66 followers
October 15, 2018
I love the message behind this book but the book itself was a drag to read. I’ve never been a huge fan of internal monologues, so when a book adopts that style to tell a story I’m instantly turned off to it. Way too many long winded run-on sentences!!

Mostly nothing happens. Many of the pages are things that don’t matter. The pages that DO matter were too on the nose—did you know many books are banned!? Did you know that lots of people die from drunk driving!? Did you know many homeless are veterans!? Did you know that everyone can have PTSD and it shows up in unexpected ways!?

It was too contrived and too heavy handed, contrasted with pointless bits about Joel’s day. The worst ones for me were the cutest texts where he goes on and on and on about how the school should buy students Harleys or Mustangs.
Profile Image for Sonja.
802 reviews6 followers
October 2, 2018
Told with a laugh-out-loud, stream of consciousness style voice and quirky, unsent texts, this story touches on grief, unexpected friendship, community responsibility, faith, and long-suppressed crushes. It is sweet and adorable and heart-rending - just like I like my realistic fiction.
Profile Image for Jessica.
1,362 reviews
September 11, 2018
Thanks to Netgalkey for the ARC! Joel Higgins is an interesting character. He saves most of his text messages instead of sending them and thinks of replies in his head while he says what people want to hear. While you might say that’s probably typical of a lot of teenagers, I say he’s still not typical. He thinks and feels so much as he is volunteering at a soup kitchen and struggling with the absence of his best friend and being a big brother and good son and teen in “strong like” with a fellow student. I love his mind and how he is sarcastic and honest with himself, even if it takes some time to manifest that true honesty. The characters he comes in contact with both challenge and change him, and they added humor to the story, too. Benj is ridiculous but reveals so much more to his story as the book progresses, and the fact that he refers to his mom as “Jesus, Mary” because his dad says that so much made me smile until the end of the book.
There are some twists and turns in here that I sort of saw coming (luckily not as tragic or traumatic as they could have been), and the love interest is realistic, thank goodness.
This book is one that wasn’t incredibly complex and deep compared to others I read, but it is one I find myself still thinking about a week after I read it.
Just FYI there is some profanity and some more mature themes and topics in here.
Profile Image for Kaya.
368 reviews62 followers
October 24, 2018
Oh, wow.

RTC (my blog tour stop is on October 26!)
413 reviews1 follower
November 4, 2018
I didn’t expect much from this book. I only picked it up because it said a kid liked banned books, so duh I had to read it. This book is everything... the characters are diverse and have so much heart! The plot hits ptsd of veterans and kids with trauma, homelessness, loss, family and friendship with a little crush thrown in. This book definitely is one of the top young adult books I have read this year. Make sure to read the end of the acknowledgments. Made me tear up.
Profile Image for Emma.
22 reviews1 follower
April 16, 2021
4.5 stars

A beutiful story about trauma and how it effects all diffrent people.
Profile Image for Holly Bryan.
597 reviews137 followers
May 4, 2020
I requested this ARC on Netgalley a while back, I think because I’d heard people mention it and I was intrigued by the summary. I actually read it before signing up for this blog tour, then signed up because I just loved it *so much*! I was taken aback by just how this book snuck up on me as I started reading, and how quickly I was sucked in by Joel’s engaging, funny, earnest voice. Telling this story in first person was a stroke of genius, because Joel is the kind of protagonist you are instantly drawn in by, and whom you can’t help but support. It’s been about a month since I first read it, and I went flipping back through it a few days ago and found myself not wanting to put it back down! In addition to Joel, I adore Eli and also Benj (even though some of his classmates uncharitably call him “batsh*t crazy”!), and the homeless that they all serve at the soup kitchen downtown, especially the veterans, are so real and haunted and have stayed in my brain (and heart) for weeks now. Joel’s little brother is also adorable, and I love their relationship.

I love the idea of Joel, who is unable/unwilling to tell Eli how he feels about her (and just how long he’s felt that way), writing hundreds of unsent text messages to her, sometimes just to relay something that happened that day, but often to work through his feelings. He also writes to his best friend Andy, whose story comes to us slowly as the book progresses, in heartfelt messages, and to his principal, when he has an idea of how to help feed the homeless or some other thought about how us adults are kind of screwing things up. Basically, the unsent messages are like a journal, but presented in a new way, and in short bursts. I love how the narrative flows right into the messages he writes, which flow right back into the narrative; it’s a very seamless storytelling device.

While this is definitely what would be called an “issue book,” and they are in fact weighty themes, there is also such humor–and an abundance of heart–to the novel that you never feel overwhelmed (at least, I didn’t). Even when I was crying (yes, there was a time or two!) or felt a sense of impending drama, I knew from the reading experience I’d had that my heart would feel full when all was said and done. That might sound a little weird, but I think you’ll understand if you read it. Joel’s voice just captivates you, and although bad things may happen and he does deal with some real heartbreak for a teenager, you’ll be cheering him on the whole way and finding yourself smiling when all is said and done. Even if, like for me, you’re smiling through tears :)

Words We Don’t Say is definitely one of my favorite contemporary novels of the year, and I hope it reaches a wide audience! Ms. Reilly has nailed Joel’s voice and authenticity, and I thank her for telling this story. If I were to give advice on who to give this one to, I’d especially encourage you to recommend it to teen boys who may be reluctant readers or otherwise wary of issue books. I think they’re going to love reading about Joel, Eli, Benj, and the rest of the characters. It’s a beautiful debut novel that I cannot recommend highly enough.

Rating: 5 incredible stars!

**Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book as part of this blog tour. This review is voluntary on my part and reflects my honest rating and review. Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Rockstar Book Tours for letting me take part in this tour!
Profile Image for Lauryn.
24 reviews2 followers
August 6, 2020
This review may contain spoilers‼‼

I really enjoyed this book. It was different from what I normally read, but it was really sweet. It had a lot of true stuff that we overlook sometimes. It inspired me because it talked about all the freedom we have in America that other countries don't have. It really opened my eyes and showed me how much I have to be grateful for. I could relate to the main character in some ways. For example, he worried what others thought and kept a lot to himself, which I do too sometimes. But, like me, he found great friends that he could be himself with. My friends, you know who you are, i love you guys. ❤🧡💛💚💙💜💜💙💚💛🧡❤

Ok back to the book, I realized how much I have to thank God for. And I realized that I want to help make a difference and help people who don't have the freedom we do. I really liked reading this book and it made me really happy. I want to thank K.J. Reilly for writing such an honest, relatable (for me at least) , and eye opening book. It was a fantastic read, and I do plan on coming back and reading it again. I would recommend this to a lot if people if not all. It was very sweet and honest. Which is what made it so amazing. We take a lot for granted and this truly brought tears to my eyes realizing how blessed I truly am.

In the book there was a soup kitchen at which Joel volunteered. It had a lot of people that were homeless vets. A lot of them had depression, PTSD, anxiety, or some other mental illness. I was so moved reading about one of the characters, Rooster, because he had so much in his life to fight through. Rooster struggles with PTSD and flashbacks of war. He is homeless and is so "messed up" that he can't - or won't - talk. He is such a great example of all the people struggling and fighting for life every day on the streets that we dont notice or dont care about. I'm not saying no-one reading this will care, just talking overall. So no hate please. But it is so sad what happens behind the scenes in a way. A scenario ran through my head reading this and it broke my heart. Imagine driving in your car and out the window you see someone taking a walk. You think nothing of it, but they are homeless. They fought for this country and they almost died many times so we can live. And now they have no where to live. They struggle with PTSD and can't afford help or medical attention. So they fight it alone each day. And none notices. We continue living in a free country without realizing that freedom isnt free. It's bought with a price that others chose to pay. I really loved all the stuff in this book. It made me so grateful and I'm so glad I read it. Honestly, the message was beautiful. It was really about friendship with the main character. But the "hidden" message of all that we have to be grateful for was beautiful. I appreciated this book a lot and I hope that if you choose to read it you will too.

Sorry for such a long review that half the time was just me ranting. But if you made it this far, thanks for reading! Have an absolutely wonderful day! I hope this review was helpful to those of you who were thinking of reading this book. If you decide to read it, enjoy!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for AJ Anstiss.
27 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2021
I took a while to finish this book because I didn't want it to end. I bought it based off of the cover and I didn't expect it to hurt me like it did. Just thought it might be a book kids in my class would like to read.
Joel, Benji and Rooster are well written. The relationships are real for teenagers who don't always make sense with their way of thinking.
The soup kitchen Benji and Joel volunteer at bring in the heartbreaking stories of homelessness. They may be characters in a book that Benji and Joel interact with, but we know these characters exist out there with different names.
Profile Image for P.M..
1,231 reviews
April 10, 2019
I intended to give this two stars when I started reading. Then, about halfway through, Joel Higgins had an epiphany and so did I. I really liked this character. However, the constant use of the F expletive prevents me from giving anything higher than a 3. I hate to think teenagers talk like this all the time. Maybe they do. Maybe it's a sign of the coarsening of our society that this is considered acceptable.
Profile Image for Cindy.
12 reviews1 follower
April 23, 2020
This book read like Joel was sitting next to me, telling me his story. Perhaps the very best lines though are in Reilly’s acknowledgements: “ and because no one ever thanks them, I would like to thank all of the AWFUL people in this world (you know who you are) who remind the rest of us every single day that while it’s so easy to say and do negative things, it’s so much better to say and do-and write-positive and compassionate and forward-moving things.”
Profile Image for Lynn.
1,039 reviews50 followers
March 21, 2021
It never ceases to amaze me how many different ways a book can be written. With all the topics that are addressed in Words We Don't Say I believe it needed to be approached from just the left of middle. Joel has a mind that is more scattered than the "normal" teenager, but not any less beautiful. I appreciate that the topics were broached from the perspective of teenagers and not the adults in their lives.
Profile Image for Jena.
Author 23 books27 followers
November 1, 2018
“Mr. Monty called it a form of compounding, said it was a good thing, but later on Benj called it sequential worsening. I figured that Benj was right; things just started to get worse and worse once you made one mistake.”

Joel Higgins writes texts messages that he never intends on sending. Instead he saves them as drafts. Which is just as good, because one of the people he writes to is his best friend Andy, who isn’t here anymore, and to the girl he loves Eli, who doesn’t know he loves her, and to Principal Redman, who probably wouldn’t appreciate all the texts anyway.

Joel can’t imagine that Junior year will be any better, given all the reasons he drafts texts instead of sending them. Oh, and he bombed the SAT’s. But through an English teacher who refuses to stop pushing boundaries, a new kid determined to become his friend so they can go to Burning Man, and a vet nicknamed Rooster who visits the soup kitchen Joel volunteers at, Joel begins to understand that life moves on and the world is bigger than his own grief and pain.

“All around his eyes and mouth was fear. Raw and bleeding like an open wound and about as sad a thing as I’ve ever seen in my whole life. I mean, right there in front of me I saw a kind of hurt that can’t be fixed.”

Throughout this entire novel, we are very much in Joel’s head. We hear his inner dialogue, read the text messages he never sends. We are in this journey with Joel entirely and completely. There is something incredible about how the writing pulls you in. It’s not traditional, with long sentences that bring to life the thought trains we all go on. In that way, there is a very modern ‘Catcher In The Rye’ vibe to the narration.

Being drawn into Joel’s inner dialogue like this makes this book absolutely stunning. It’s raw and vivid and incredibly heartbreaking. As Joel comes to terms with his past, and we as readers learn the truth of the past, this funny and endearing novel simply rips your heart in two in all of the best ways. This is a novel about loss and coming to terms with not just who you are, but how you want to be. How to heal from trauma. How to forgive and most importantly, how to move forward when you have no idea where to start.

“You’d think seeing what I saw at Hendricks Street on Wednesday nights would make me thing being short was a problem I could work around, but you’d be wrong.”

I want to take a moment and talk about the adults in this novel. They are fantastic. Parents and teachers and even guidance counselors are often portrayed in extremes in YA novels. As either supportive and amazing, or as incredibly awful. I loved every single adult in this book. They all came across as adults I knew as a teen, and as adults I know now. Teachers who are terrifying with their rules, but also stay with you because of how incredible the actual messages they teach you are. Guidance counselors who have your best interest at heart, with no actual way of knowing if they’re reaching you. And the parents. Man, I love Jackson and Jesus, Mary so freaking much!

And Mr. Morgan. Every single scene in that English class hit me in the heart. I had several teachers like Mr. Morgan. Teachers who were terrifying but also taught me some of the most important lessons about life. Teachers that stay with you long into adulthood. He challenges his class and for Joel, these lessons are more than simply reading stories and learning vocabulary words.

This is one of the most amazing things about this story. How incredibly real the entire thing is portrayed. Reilly manages to fully capture how uncomfortable a teenager would be sitting in these classrooms. More than that, she vividly renders how his thoughts are jumbled and scattered and thinking about anything and everything, some of it entirely inappropriate given the context. It made me flash back to my own High School days, sitting through discussions that are painful and awkward while your brain spews off in a thousand directions of its own. And yet, the most important and life-changing aspects somehow plant the seeds deep in your brain anyway.

“I was thinking about what Mr. Morgan told us about high schools and colleges where there are safe spaces to protect students from the violence of words and I was thinking that there were no safe spaces to protect kids like Jessie from the violence of life if they don’t have a family.”

Everything about this novel felt stunningly real to me. Joel felt real to me. From the way he responded both in his head and out loud, often the latter being much more polite than the former. To the unsent text messages, the way he viewed the world, how he rationalized and problem solved. The mistakes he made, the choices he made. Everything. Joel made me laugh, and he made me cry. All I really wanted to do throughout the entire thing is give this kid a giant hug.

The thing about this novel is that even though this is a classic coming of age story in every sense of the definition, his journey into finding himself isn’t at all traditional. Joel is desperately trying to make sense of a world that no longer makes sense to him. He has his own stuff to work through, and he experiences and sees the harsh reality of the world around him. This harsh glimpse at the way the world works doesn’t make him see that his life is better than theirs, or that life can always get worse. Instead, it makes him fall deeper into the guilt and depression and loneliness he finds himself sinking towards. I think this is something teens can relate to. Even though the world can be so big and so awful, it doesn’t make our own experiences any less traumatic. It’s an important message for kids to hear.

Words We Don’t Say is gorgeous and complex. It’s a book I highly recommend to anyone and everyone. It often is the small things that change the world but those small things can feel incredibly big when they happen to us. There are huge message woven into this story. The reality of homelessness and vets in this country. The depth and enormity of trauma and mental illness. How heavy guilt can weigh us down and guide us to making terrible choices. Friendship. First love. Banned books. Safe spaces. Reilly doesn’t give us answers. She allows the reader, and Joel, to navigate through these topics on our own. To see how Joel reacts and decide how we, in turn, will react. It makes for a satisfying journey.

Thank you Rockstar Book Tours and Disney-Hyperion for sending me my review copy and including me on this tour!
Profile Image for Shena Vasko.
239 reviews4 followers
December 26, 2019
Because it's Casey's favorite book, I thought I'd read it. I'm glad I did. I laughed, I cried, and I learned. One of the best I've read in a long time.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
20 reviews2 followers
May 4, 2020
So well written! Mark my words this will make a great movie or Netflix series one day!
2 reviews
October 3, 2020
The dialog is somewhat juvenile, which is brilliant, because it fits the characters perfectly. I enjoyed reading it.
5 reviews1 follower
June 1, 2021
This is my all time favorite book! I've reread it so many times I've lost count. I love the themes of the book and how it all comes full circle at the end!
1 review
February 28, 2020
In this book, there is a boy named Joel who doesn’t have many friends. He works at a Soup Kitchen and is also pretty much in love with a girl named Eli. At the Soup kitchen, a new man came in and Joel decides to name him “Rooster”. Throughout the story, he learns more about Rooster’s life and begins to become closer to the man, however, he has never actually talked to the man before. Instead of talking back to Joel, Rooster uses his fingers to answer yes and no questions. An example of this in the text is on page 228 when Joel says ¨He didn´t look at me or move. ´Should we do that? What do you think?´ I asked. Nothing. ´Hold up one finger if it´s a yes….´ Rooster turned back toward me and slowly lifted up one finger.¨ Towards the end, however, Rooster finally speaks to Joel. This moment in the book is very powerful and shows how far they´ve come. I loved reading about their relationship growing and the confusing ups and downs along the way. These ups and downs include Rooster giving Joel a gun, and Joel figuring out Rooster´s real identity.

Another thing that I love about this book, is that it spreads awareness about Veterans and what they deal with at war when they get back home. Throughout the story, Joel and his friends talk to a Veteran and learn about what they have gone through. Joel starts to think more and more about this, and realizes that Rooster, his friend that never talks, is most likely going through the same trauma as many Veterans. These thoughts lead to a very unexpected end and really made me think.

In the book, Joel also shares his thoughts about his love life with Eli and tends to think about her a lot. They grow closer in the book, but he has always believed that she only spent time with him because he didn’t have very many friends and because he was lonely. She is a kind girl who loves helping people, and who is very involved in her church. He has helped her out at church but doesn’t understand her beliefs and feels like he’ll never have a chance with a beautiful girl like her. This changes, however, towards the end of the book and it is one of my favorite parts!!

Lastly, there is a new kid that goes to their school named Benj. He also works at the soup kitchen. Joel doesn’t like him at first because he hears loads of rumors about the boy, but they gradually become closer and build trust with one another. An example of this is when Joel picks up Benj drunk at 3 a.m. and they end up talking about the hard times in their life and their loved ones and friends that have passed. Their relationship changes dramatically and goes from getting into a fistfight to helping each other when in need.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Paige.
1,723 reviews79 followers
October 22, 2018
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Disney Books/Hyperion and Rockstar Book Tours. Thanks! All opinions are my own.

Rating: 4/5

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Genre: YA Contemporary

Recommended Age: 15+ (PTSD, homelessness, inner monologues, pain)

Pages: 288

Amazon Link

Synopsis: Joel Higgins has 901 unsent text messages saved on his phone.

Ever since the thing that happened, there are certain people he hasn't been able to talk to in person. Sure, he shows up at school, does his mandatory volunteer hours at the soup kitchen, and spends pretty much every moment thinking about Eli, the most amazing girl in the world. But that doesn't mean he's keeping it together, or even that he has any friends.

So instead of hanging out with people in real life, he drafts text messages. But he never presses send.

As dismal as sophomore year was for Joel, he doesn't see how junior year will be any better. For starters, Eli doesn't know how he feels about her, his best friend Andy's gone, and he basically bombed the SATs. But as Joel spends more time at the soup kitchen with Eli and Benj, the new kid whose mouth seems to be unconnected to his brain, he forms bonds with the people they serve there-including a veteran they call Rooster-and begins to understand that the world is bigger than his own pain.

So in the beginning of this book I didn’t feel like this book was going to be that good of a book, but as I read on the book became better. The book, while wrote in a weird fashion, works well for the main character’s thought process. I think that the thought pattern of the main character is fairly realistic to one that suffers from PTSD/anxiety. I also felt that the author did really well with discussing socially relevant issues that are otherwise hard to discuss. I think that the book has excellent reread potential.

However, the book is so weirdly written that readers might not make it to the point where things start to click. The book is very long winded in places and the pacing is all over the place. The book also seems to suffer from the Stephen King syndrome of droning on and on about random events or things. I think the book is very interesting and definitely a reread book for me, but it’s just really hard to get into overall.

Verdict: Beautiful book with reread potential.
Profile Image for Kay Kuever.
128 reviews16 followers
October 31, 2018
For as long as I can remember, I've been a journaler. My husband recently found an old journal of mine that had been written mostly during a largely transitional portion of my life. He found my rambling writing hilarious. I was mostly horrified by the whole experience. But, when he started asking me about why I seemed to write directly to myself on many of the pages I remembered how therapeutic that had been for me. Looking back on that journal that I have since stolen back and hidden more discreetly, I wrote to myself in a similar way that Joel writes to his principal, Eli, and Andy. There are pages filled with hopes, dreams, tons of teenage angst, but also things I never thought I could say out loud.

To say that I enjoyed this book wouldn't begin to touch the surface of feelings that Words We Don't Say has left me with. To be perfectly frank, when I first started reading this book I wasn't sure where Reilly was going with Joel and his story. His day to day life just didn't seem to be making any progress. Things were sort of happening? But, not really happening at the same time. Then, about fifty pages in, everything clicked for me. While Joel is our angry, sassy teenage narrator, this story is so much bigger than him. If anything, I'm so glad that we see everything through Joel's eyes. He's sarcastic but honest and looking for that challenge and connection he's lost from Andy. He perfectly embodies the amount of frustration and yet, growth and understanding, that would have been lost on any other character. That is not to say that there weren't other amazing characters. Benj and Eli and Alex B. Renner. I can honestly say that they are all freaking snowflakes and I love them. Like Eli, I'm also a pretty intense list maker.

Reilly beautifully and painfully points out the things that are systematically unjust in our society and puts us in the shoes of a boy and his friends that are brave enough and willing enough to try to make a difference. This book is laugh-out-loud funny, thoughtfully introspective, and honestly moving. Most of all, this book made me hopeful for the next generation of voices.

P.S. Mr. Morgan absolutely deserves a raise. All teachers like him do. Mine was Mr. O'Brien.
Profile Image for R.J..
Author 4 books56 followers
August 31, 2018
He was told that keeping a journal to vent out his feelings would help him get over the "thing" that happened, but why would he do something that "girly"? No, that absolutely IS NOT going to happen. So he sends text messages to people. Only, never sends them. So basically he types out the messages and saves them as "draft" to his phone. So basically, yeah, he keeps a journal.

Words We Don't Say is packed full of easy laughs and heart wrenching conversations. Joel is a junior in High School dealing with anxiety, depression, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness when he looks at all the bad that has happened in everyone's lives, especially while he works in the soup kitchen. Compare that to Eli, his perfect image of a dream girl, who leans on a God he doesn't believe in and strives to fix every problem to the best of her ability. Even when her efforts don't seem to effect the total of the world's problems, she's never discouraged from doing good; and he wants that.

This book was really hard to put down. One minute I was laughing out loud and another I was almost ready to cry. The way this book is written keeps the book moving at a steady pace and it's easy to fall for the characters.

I loved the messages this book illustrated too. In my review of I Wish by Elizabeth Langston, I mentioned that I have several close friends and family in the military, which makes me appreciative of any book that honors and respects those who give up so much for our freedom. Well, Words We Don't Say broke my heart with the awareness it brings to homeless Vets and PTSD. During a conversation with one of the Vets as he describes what it was like coming home from Afghanistan for the first time, time froze and I couldn't even begin to image myself in his shoes, and even though this was a fictional character, it still happens in real life. The author did a phenomenal job at separating the funny from the serious, but she also blended the two together in a way that didn't make either stand out of place.

I do need to mention that this is NOT a Christian book even though there is a Christian character. The are profuse amounts of cursing (including "gd" and the f-word more than 10 times) and plenty of sexual comments that may turn some readers away (no sex scenes or actions though). There are also mentions of homosexuals, though no characters.

Overall, this book gets 4 out of 5 stars from me, because of the messages, illustrations, and excellently written story. It would receive a full 5 stars if the cursing hadn't been as strong as it was.



I received an ARC from the author for the purpose of this review. All comments and opinions are entirely my own.

This is a LiteratureApproved.com Review.
658 reviews
February 2, 2019
I'm not sure if it's because of my age (adult) or life situation (frequently seeing homeless guys under bridges), but this book really resonated with me. There were several things I appreciated about it.

1. Mostly short chapters. I'll start with the surface. Books with short chapters are--arguably--easier to read. You can finish a chapter in just a few minutes, which means you don't feel like you have to set aside a big chunk of time in order to pick up the book. On the (somewhat) negative side, you always feel like you should just keep going for one more little chapter to see what happens, meaning that you get to bed way too late or never get around to all that other stuff you were going to do.
2. Powerful issues and interesting factoids. The book addresses lots of tough issues--death, illness, mental illness, homelessness, banned books--and because Eli is rather obsessed with lists and facts, the book is full of tidbits about these topics which bring home the magnitude of the problems. For Joel and Eli and Benj, problems like these tend to make typical high school drama fade in comparison.
3. An interesting story. While some books are almost entirely in the characters' heads with no real plot action, this book actually had stuff happen. Joel hangs out with his crush, tries to help some homeless vets, gains a friend, and makes some major mistakes over the course of the book. That said, I wonder if I would appreciate it as much if I were still a teen, or if I'd think it were as boring as I thought Across Five Aprils was when I read it that first time. (As an adult, I appreciate that one, too--but I can see why my teen self thought that it was boring because nothing happened.) I plan to make my kids read this one when they're in high school despite some wince-worthy language just to test this theory.
Profile Image for Jen Solak.
147 reviews3 followers
October 9, 2018
This book is one of the most honest portrayals of teenage brains, especially an anxious one, and is SO spot on that I think teenagers will recognize themselves in the book and adults will see flashes of their past. It sounds cliche, but this book did make me laugh at parts and sob at parts. In fact, this book manages to deal with a LOT of issues without being cliche. Some topics covered are banned books, teachers, cancer, family dynamics, PTSD, treatment of veterans, homelessness, budgets, love, loss, and friendship. That sounds like it could be a really heavy handed book, but having worked in a high school I can see how many of these issues are piled upon students and to think their lives are less complicated is to downplay how hard it is to be a teenager today.

This book is written in a manner that the reader gets an almost stream of consciousness look at our main character Joel’s life. We see this through the conversations he has, as well as the hundreds of text messages he has written and never sent. He fake texts three people, the girl he likes (but it isn’t cheesy, which is hard to find sometimes in YA), his friend Andy who we know isn’t there anymore although we don’t find out why until the end of the novel, and the principal of his school. I don’t want to spoil this book by talking about the context of his texts but I recommend this book for the adventure of following Joel’s thoughts and his life because watching him grow and recover from loss is a worthwhile journey.

Thank you NetGalley for an early arc of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jerry Jennings.
222 reviews8 followers
December 3, 2022
Words We Don’t Say by K. J. Reilly (2018) is an impressive YA novel with inviting characters, plenty of ‘what’s going to happen next’ anticipation (sometimes seriously edgy and other times charmingly touching), and lots of complex real-world topics. This is a great read.
The story is told through the voice of Joel, a seventeen-year-old boy. Additionally strong characters are Eli, a girl and Benj, a boy – the are both seventeen. These three are all juniors in high school. Joel is grieving a loss, Eli is committed to doing enough good make the world a better place, and Benj is new to town – he came to live with his aunt due to the death of both of his parents. These three are joined by a cast of well-developed realistic people.
Among the real-life issues the characters are confronted with are: friendships, grief, homeless veterans, PTSD, strong family relationships, sibling relationships, gun safety, book censorship, volunteerism, God, Joel’s crush on and Eli, Benj’s obsession with Burning Man and so much more.
Now, you may be thinking WOW! Those are some mighty big topics. K. J. Reilly masterfully paced and created the plot and developed characters so that the story and all these realities come through genuinely, with compassion, and some humor.
In my opinion, young adult (YA) books are at their best when they have the potential to help expand the reader’s awareness and possible understanding of them self, themself with others, themself with others attempting to get something done, and/or themself within the world. And, of course, to meet these challenges the book must attract and keep the reader’s interest. Words We Don’t Say meets these challenges.
I recommend it!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 146 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.