This is a review I posted at the forum for Christian Geek Central, and that was even read during an episode of the Spirit Blade Underground podcast.
I would guess I'm hardly alone in thinking that my school days were far from ideal. I don't want to do too much complaining, because there are good memories, and very likely other good times I can't readily recall. But I don't think it's unfair to also say that there were plenty of trials and difficulties, too, and I don't mean just having to prepare for tests.
For me, there was an extra element, because I was one of those students with an obvious difference, something that made me a target for many of my fellow students. I had, and still have, a speech problem. This story, “A Silent Voice”, is the story of a girl who has a similar type of difficulty, in her case she's deaf. But more then that, it's the story of a boy who treated her badly who then grew up and wanted to treat her well.
The first volume opens by focusing on Shoya Ishida, a boy who attends an elementary school. He's a fairly average kid, doesn't like school very much, comes from a fatherless home, and spends his time fighting boredom by doing crazy stunts. One day, his class receives a new student, a girl names Shoko Nishimiya, and she's a girl who can't hear. Shoya initially sees her as some kind of alien being, someone he can't understand. He and his fellow students are not really hostile to her at first, she's more an object of curiosity. As times goes by, the difficulties and inconveniences Shoko causes those around her make her the focus of the class' hostilities, and though the whole class is involved in tormenting her, Shoya is probably the worst of the lot.
It's when the class gets called out because of the cost for the hearing aids they have damaged that they essentially throw Shoya under the bus, making him the class' scapegoat, and when he tries to fight back, their hostility focuses on him. The rift between Shoya and his classmates increases his hostility towards Shoko, and they eventually fight. This fight leads to Shoko being taken out of the school.
Five or so years go by, and Shoya remains isolated from his classmates. His situation depresses him, and he plans to end his life, but first tries to set some things right, such as repaying his mother for the money she paid for the hearing aids. He also hunts up Shoko, to more-or-less apologize to her. This meeting ends up being more positive then he thought it would be, and her acceptance of him causes him to not follow through on his suicide plan.
The next couple of volumes are about how this friendship develops. Mrs. Nishimiya remembers the boy who made her daughter's schooldays so miserable, and is not happy that he has shown up again. There is a younger child who hangs around Shoko, and who wants to keep Shoya away from her. As Shoya learns later on, this kid is Shoko's younger sister, Yuzuru, who has for several years played guard duty for her older sister, trying to keep from Shoko those who would ridicule or harm her.
Shoya makes another friend from his class, a boy named Tomohiro. Tomohiro wants to get into film making, and he has the idea of making a movie to enter into an amateur competition. A couple of people from Shoya and Shoko's earlier school days show up, one wanting to become friends and the other questioning their friendships.
In the next part of the story, Tomohiro's movie begins to pick up steam, and more people join the circle of friends. But the demands of the movie project, and other issues, strain their friendships, until finally there is a meltdown. Harsh and ugly things are said, and Shoya and Shoko are left alone. Lost in his own guilt at what he said and did to scatter their friends, Shoya doesn't see how much Shoko is hurting, too, and how she blames herself for their problems. She eventually does something very rash and stupid, which leaves Shoya comatose.
Up to this point, the story has been told mostly from Shoya's perspective. Now, with him out of commission, the focus is on other characters and how they handle the fallout, and things can get pretty intense here. And, finally, the story gives us Shoko's view. It shows her difficulties in understanding what is going on around her, her desire to have been a normal girl with a normal life, and her fears of what her actions may have done to Shoya.
I'll leave the rest for you to read about.
This isn't a simple story. It's rich and intricate, sometimes difficult to read, but always compelling. The characters are among the most believable I've come on. They don't fit the typical good guy/bad guy molds, almost all of them at some point in the story could be considered the good guy or bad guy.
There is one example of grace in this story that I want to point out.
It takes place when they are still in grade school. The school administrators have called out the class, because of the cost of Shoko's hearing aids that the students have damaged. The class has essentially made Shoya the scapegoat, blaming him for everything that happened to Shoko, and when he tries to point out that everyone else was a part of the bullying, too, they make him the new focus of their bullying.
When his shoes keep going missing, he goes one morning to stake out the place where the student's shoes are kept, hoping to find out who's been taking them. He sees Shoko in the classroom arranging flowers and then cleaning off a desk, and he thinks she's cleaning off her own desk of some nasty messages other students had left her.
After finding out who's been taking his shoes, then getting beat up by them, Shoya violently rejects Shoko's attempts to help him, and this leads to the two of them fighting. Shoko is removed from the school not long after.
It's after she's gone that Shoya learns how wrong he'd been. It wasn't her own desk that she had cleaning each morning, but his. The other students had been writing hateful messages on his desk, and Shoko had been cleaning them off before he had a chance to see them. In driving her away, he's driven away his only real friend.
But it seems that the grace Shoko showed him here did bare fruit, though it was a slow process, and involved a lot of pain for Shoya as he endured continuing rejection from the other students. Though it's not explicitly stated in the story, it seems that his knowledge of her kindness was one reason he finally decided to look for her and try to make things right with her.
One of the big reasons I like this story is because I can sympathize with both of the main characters.
I can remember times in school where I was on the receiving end of some ridicule and bullying. Like I mentioned at the beginning, my own problem has been with speech, not with hearing like the character in the story, and I don't remember it being as extreme as what happened in the story, but it still occurred.
When Shoya at one point says that in all his years he's never once been a good person, I can find myself saying much the same thing about myself. And it's not as if I hadn't made the effort. I've been the “good kid” in school, working hard to get decent grades and not cause problems. I've done the church activities. I've even done the missions thing, living in another country for a few years.
One of the Bible's most difficult sayings is “All our works of righteousness are as filthy rags”. It's never easy to think of how much sin corrupts even the things we do that we want to think are good. I give to get, I do good deeds trying to earn things from God, I want to think highly of myself. I can disguise pride as humility, I can pretend that I care about others when my main concern is myself and what others thing about me.
Everything I do is tainted and stained with sin. In all my years, I've never once been a good person.
This is the one thing that is missing from “A Silent Voice”, the hope that God has dealt with our sins, that Christ came to save people who know that they have never been good.
I guess I've read or seen thousands of stories in books, movies, and on TV. Many have been good, and I've regretted seeing or reading more than a few, too. Along with those, there are also my own attempts at storytelling as a writer.
What is it that makes a story special? Maybe I could point out a few traits, such as good characters, a plot with few if any holes, and important themes, but while such analysis can be helpful, it's still a bit of a mystery. And it's an individual thing, too, as a story one person enjoys might fall flat for someone else.
However it happens and for whatever reasons, for me “A Silent Voice” is a special story, one that has stayed with me and likely will stay with me for a long time. It's a large, intricate story, with plenty of humor but also conflicts and highly emotional moments. I've not even mentioned some of my favorite scenes, such as Shoya and Yuzuru's conversation with coffee creamer packets, or the glimpse we see of what Shoko wished her childhood had been like, or how Shoko's grandmother supports her mother when her father leaves them.
It's not perfect, I don't agree with everything in it, but I can respect how it takes on some pretty serious issues. I greatly enjoyed this story, and give it as strong a recommendation as I can give. It is a story well worth reading.