Isabelle refuses to speak, and her parents are in a panic. Ruth,
Isabelle's mother blames herself, while Wilson, Isabelle's father, vacillates
between hope and denial. Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop takes these three
characters, three perspectives, and one interesting problem to create a novel
that dually investigates the trials of family life and the pains of adolescence.
At the center of Winthrop's story is the silent Isabelle, whose life seems
suddenly out of control. In actuality, Isabelle is merely growing up, but to
her, things seem disordered and frightening. She recedes into her mind where she
watches the world from behind a steel screen of silence and guilt. Isabelle is
an astute 11 year old who sees what her silence is doing to her parents, but
convinces herself that she cannot speak, that she has forgotten the self that
used to be the speaking...
Beyond the Book
Isabelle is not diagnosed in the book, but were she to be, she would probably be
diagnosed with Selective Mutism
, a childhood anxiety disorder. Some
therapists might even diagnose her with Traumatic Mutism
because of the
immediate onset and her total silence. Most children with SM are not completely
silent all the time. They are silent as a result of deep anxiety, but will talk
normally when they are in 'safe' environments. Isabelle would be a rare case
because she is completely silent for nine months.
Children with SM often have "severely inhibited temperaments" and are more prone
to anxiety. When we become stressed, the amygdala (the brain's "emergency
manager") responds to the potential crisis by overriding thought and instigating a reaction...