When You Know What I Know

A sensitive, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful novel in verse about one girl’s journey in the aftermath of abuse.

One day after school, on the couch in the basement, Tori’s uncle did something bad. Afterward, Tori tells her mom. Even though telling was a brave thing to do, her mom still doesn’t believe her at first. Her grandma still takes his side. And Tori doesn’t want anyone else—even her best friend—to know what happened.

Now Tori finds herself battling mixed emotions—anger, shame, and sadness—as she deals with the trauma. But with the help of her mom, her little sister, her best friend, and others, can Tori find a way to have the last word

From debut author Sonja K. Solter comes a heartbreaking yet powerful novel that will strike a chord with readers of Jacqueline Woodson and Tony Abbott

When You Know What I Know, Sonja K. Solter
March 24, 2020

As it can be seen from the back copy of When You Know What I Know, Sonja K. Solter pulls no punches when it comes to discussing the topics of this amazing middle grade novel in verse. Tori’s story of her uncle’s sexual abuse is so beautifully crafted that you’re immediately lost in Solter’s poetry as Tori recovers from the single worst thing to ever happen to her. Not only is Tori strong, and senstitive, and emotional, and funny, but she is also brave in her year long recovery that amazingly only takes 204 pages to experience. As a former English teacher, I hope schools are caring and brave enough to include this book in their libraries and curriculum for middle graders to experience.

First off, major shout outs to Elliana Esquivel and Marcie Lawrence for creating an absolutely beautiful, yet simple, and by the end of the book unforgettable cover. Having Tori on the cover refusing to look at the reader, that old-ugly couch, the tambourine, the strawberry milkshakes, and the hamster cage on the back so that it is hidden is all absolutely amazing. As you read this book and you look at the cover you can tell this book is a true work of love and caring by all parties involved.

Tori’s story is so beautifully crafted that as a person who highlights “the good parts” as I go, I often found myself too lost in the words to even pick up my highlighter and pen. Solter’s use of verse to tell this story has such brevity that every page feels like the words on that page could not be replaced with any other. It’s rare that I find a book that I cannot point out a single thing I would change, but when it comes to When You Know What I Know that is exactly what Sonja K. Solter has done. She’s created a story so true and so loving towards its readers as well as it’s characters that you will find yourself emotionally sitting next to Tori wanting to ask her, “What can I do to help you, friend?”

Now, why is it that Sonja K. Solter’s development of Tori and her story strikes such an emotional chord? It’s really something that is very simple. It’s honest and does not beat around the bush about words. Solter gives a voice to young children to know they are not alone. As Solter says herself in the Author’s Note, “Sexual abuse is —sadly, appallingly, unacceptably— a part of our world, and yet it can feel off-limits to speak about it.” In When You Know What I Know, Tori’s sexual abuse goes through all phases of discussion. Whether it is one-sided because her mother doesn’t believe her, unspoken because Tori feels such shame about what happened, internal because Tori is trying to deal with the trauma on her own, said without words when her mother finally listens, whispered by Tori’s teacher (or at least that’s what Tori believes to be true, and probably is), shouted by her mother at her father, repeated when Tori is seeing her therapist, and finally heard when Tori gets to have the Last Word. Solter truly took the idea of sexual abuse being an unspoken taboo and threw it out the window. And, honestly, I could not be happier that she did. Not since Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson have I felt like sexual abuse and the aftermath be so beautifully discussed in a book.

Genuinely, this book is a fast, sad, and hopeful read. I know that may sound impossible, but it truly is. Sonja K. Solter manages to walk an impossible thin line of beautifully poetic with truthfully heartbreaking without ever once becoming didactic. That is where and why Solter shines so bright in this amazing read. She writes for middle grade in the most true way possible. She is writing for them to have a voice and to be heard and to hear, not for them to sit down and learn. Solter’s care of Tori’s story is not only an act of true love it is a deeply necessary story for the middle grade canon

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Published by D.S. Davis

Hello, my name is D.S. Davis. I am a YA and Middle Grade writer currently seeking an agent. I am the MFA in Creative Writing program coordinator at Sierra Nevada University, where I graduated in January 2020 having studied specifically writing for children and young adults. I'm a Jersey boy who has moved to Truckee, California in pursuit of mountain living and to immerse myself in the writing program that changed my life. I can be found on Twitter and Instagram @thedsdavis

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