Skip to main content

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say: A Novel

Review

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say: A Novel

Winter Halperin is a Scripps National Spelling Bee champion. She is tuned into the latest spelling bee news, so when she finds out that African American Sintra Gabel won the latest Bee, she sends out a fateful tweet: "We learned many surprising things today. Like that dehnstufe is apparently a word, and that a black kid can actually win the Spelling Bee."

This tweet labels her as a racist. Winter is rejected from her college of choice, Kenyon College, and is thrown onto the street (metaphorically). As she tries to piece her life back together, she learns a valuable lesson about life: not everyone has to like you.

I first wanted to read this book because this book was written at the right time. We live in a politically correct world, and statements like Winter's set aflame the worlds of Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. Many other reviewers said Winter is not a hero, not in the conventional sense. That did not deter me at all. I wanted to read about someone who was not the conventional protagonist. I wanted to see her try to fix her life.

"This book is perfect for our generation. It combines the horror of the internet's 'never forget' mindset and the PC culture we live in today....perfect for those who want to delve deeper into our culture and how it affects everyone in it."

Now, I cannot agree with what she said, and I cannot say that she is a good person through and through, but this book is not about being “good.” It is a story of redemption and change. Winter learns what takes many years to learn. We are all human in the end. We must atone for our misdeeds, but we all make mistakes.

This book offered a new perspective to scandals. Beneath it all, there is a person who caused it. One of the characters, Abe Krisch, makes a good point: Winter is not Hitler; she is Winter Halperin. She made a mistake, and she must own up to this mistake. This is the crux of the book. Winter acts as if she is the victim, but she soon realizes that she is both the bad guy and victim. She owns up to her mistakes and confronts her fears. It made me feel a bit more for those who struggle with their reality and go through scandal. I do not agree with what they have done, but this book gave them some of their humanity back.

Another interesting topic the book broached was the commercialism of redemption. Winter meets two organizations that try to help her, both with large price tags. The first, Personal History, tries to bury the bad news in the corners of the Web (rather known as page two of Google). This did not seem like a good idea. The Internet is forever. Burying the lede does not mean the lede does not exist anymore.

The second, Revibe, tries to make the misdoer become “good” through yoga, volunteering and writing apologies. The problem is that these apologies are false. I never particularly understood why the Revibers wrote these apologies. They had no heart in them. They were sorries for the brownie points. It kind of made me sick, honestly. This is the world we live in. People want to make a buck, and maybe help others as Kevin from Revibe does.

Winter is written as a “bad” character, which is done well. I got sick of her excuses soon enough, but I also felt for her. She went through so much, but she was still a child. Sure, she is about my age, but I felt an oddly parental notion for her. She was so young. She was so ignorant. She did not know what her words would do. I just wanted to give her a hug.

I wanted this book to go deeper. Racism is lurking underneath the book as a whole, but Leila Sales never dives deeper. Winter is a white Jewish girl. She does not understand the implicit bias that other people face. I, as a middle-class Chinese-American kid, cannot say that I understand what Jason and Kisha go through, but it was as if the book was refusing to touch these topics. Yes, these are not the main part of the book (Winter's redemption arc is), but they are crucial to the story (after all, racism is what caused her tweet to go viral.)

This book is perfect for our generation. It combines the horror of the internet's “never forget” mindset and the PC culture we live in today. It is a book perfect for those who want to delve deeper into our culture and how it affects everyone in it.

Reviewed by Wren L., Teen Board Member on June 28, 2018

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say: A Novel
by Leila Sales