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What to Say Next

Review

What to Say Next

When a stranger sits down across from you, what do you say? That’s the problem that David Drucker faces when Kit Lowell, popular and collected, sits down at his empty --- other than himself --- lunch table. While David knows of Kit, and has an appreciation for her kindness and coolness, he doesn’t really know her. He does know that Kit’s dad is dead, however; he was killed in a car accident a month ago, and his death still hangs over Kit as she struggles to assimilate back into high school life.

When Kit sits at David’s table, all she knows is that she can’t bear another meaningless conversation. She finds a refreshing silence at David’s table, and as the days progress, he provides her with an honesty and sincerity that the rest of the student body lacks. But Kit’s friendship with David puts him in the spotlight, in more ways than one. Suddenly, he isn’t invisible to his classmates. Suddenly, he finds himself working to help Kit learn more about the fatal accident that killed her father. Suddenly, David doesn’t know who he is anymore, where his place is --- but neither does Kit. Both teenagers face a road of self-discovery in Julie Buxbaum’s WHAT TO SAY NEXT, a novel about identity, coming of age and relationships in the times that test them and make them stronger.

"A short, meaningful story...with compelling characters and a balanced, multifaceted storyline. Though David might not know what to say next, Julie Buxbaum does --- and writes his story, and Kit’s, with care and beauty."

The narration and characterization of WHAT TO SAY NEXT lifts the novel beyond the ordinary, gives it a voice and style like a unique shade of color. David’s chapters stand out the most: Julie Buxbaum writes his thoughts in a beautiful, yet realistic way --- a portrait first of a high school boy, but also one on the autism spectrum. With that said, the author does not turn David into a diagnosis, instead presenting his struggles, mostly social, in an honest and individualized light --- a point she highlights in her author’s note as well. David’s reflections on high school, on family, and on his own identity prove insightful, not only in understanding him as a character, but also in opening the reader’s eyes to look at society from the perspective of an individual who stands on its fringes. While David proves remarkably perceptive, at times his innocence will break the reader’s heart, as he occasionally stumbles on the nuances of relationships with others.

Readers will also enjoy the familial relationships that Julie Buxbaum develops as the story progresses. David’s relationship with his sister, college freshman and former high school queen Lauren Drucker, demonstrates that siblings don’t always have to argue and fight, even when they live in radically different social circles. Her concern for David and his love for her give the story a heartwarming undercurrent. On the other hand, Kit struggles with her mother after her father’s death, their broken family like a table missing a leg. While Kit and her mother grieve differently, they don’t always mesh, especially as Kit learns certain secrets about her mother. The author weaves this conflict throughout the story, a contrast to David’s healthy familial connections. This plays into the strong storylines of the novel --- while Kit and David share the major plotline, they also deal with their own unique problems, providing layers to the story.

Both David and Kit change as they grow closer together in a friendship that breaks social norms. While the novel’s portrayal of two different characters meshing might not seem entirely realistic given the tense high school social atmosphere, it provides a much needed sense of optimism. However, readers may dislike the strong value that the characters place on appearance and looks rather than character --- though this might be sadly realistic, it would have been nice if the book had a stronger message discouraging this thinking.

For fans of contemporary novels like A TAXONOMY OF LOVE, WHAT TO SAY NEXT provides a short, meaningful story of finding yourself in the midst of grief and change, with compelling characters and a balanced, multifaceted storyline. Though David might not know what to say next, Julie Buxbaum does --- and writes his story, and Kit’s, with care and beauty.

Reviewed by Rachel R., Teen Board Member on April 11, 2018

What to Say Next
by Julie Buxbaum