Jenae is content in her social solitude, having already realized that “the world is full of people . . . who think fitting in is more important than being yourself.” However, her first day at John Wayne Junior High presents a challenge when her teacher announces that students must pair up to debate in front of the class.
Something to Say, like Jenae herself, is quietly commanding. Lisa Moore Ramée’s breezy chapters fly by as she thoughtfully explores friendship, activism and other serious issues.
The heart of the story is the budding friendship between Jenae and Aubrey, a new boy in school and her partner in the debate challenge. They bond over a fictional superhero but are otherwise total opposites. Aubrey is loud and energetic, and he couldn’t be more excited about the debate assignment.
Aubrey helps Jenae navigate her worries about her brother, whose athletic career has been sidelined by injury, and Jenae begins to appreciate the value of their friendship. But Jenae’s life becomes more complicated when her beloved grandfather, Gee, has a stroke, and her absentee father lets her down again.
Meanwhile, Jenae’s community is deciding whether to change her school’s name because of white supremacist comments made by the school’s namesake, an actor whom Gee admires. Community leaders want to rename it to honor Sylvia Mendez, the girl at the center of Mendez v. Westminster, a 1947 school desegregation case that set a precedent used in Brown v. Board of Education. Ramée weaves this conflict into the story skillfully, avoiding didacticism while acknowledging why many people resist change.
As Jenae discovers her own powerful voice, she must overcome her fear of using it in order to spark positive change in her community. The book’s message about the importance of righting the wrongs of history and taking a stand for what you believe will resonate loud and clear.