Cover Image: The Way I Say It

The Way I Say It

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Member Reviews

Rory struggles with saying his 'R's. Rhoticism isn't uncommon, but it does seem to open the door for the kids in his class to tease him. Struggling with the r sound means that Rory spends all his time avoiding R words. Eventually, though, he gains confidence in himself.
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A few years ago, we saw an influx of books about kids who stutter. Tandon is doing the same here with speech impediments. Rory may have problems with speech but he is otherwise a regular middle schooler. He isn't morally superior. He's a typical kid, facing fear, social pressure, bullies, resentment, jealousy. He's constantly confronted with a kid who betrayed him. It's his conflict with Brent that really makes this book, a subtle exploration of justice and what a person "deserves". While some of the plot points are overly convenient, accelerated or portrayed in an unrealistic manner, it's overall pretty solid and teaching us a degree of compassion.
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Bullying and the angst of changing friendships during the middle school years are important, and well-represented, themes in modern literature for this age group — as they should be. HOWEVER, this is the first book I have read about a kiddo with a speech impediment, and, happily, it is perfection. Perfection! Whether or not they identify with the main character’s specific experience, kids will see themselves in his struggle to blend in, stand out, be a good friend, and stand up for himself. Much love.
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The Way I say It was an incredible middle-grade novel with brilliant themes and thoughtful messages. Rory was a well-rounded protagonist with flaws and made me root for him. Watching his and Brent's friendship evolve was very heartwarming to read about. The concept and plot were brilliant and so was the writing. I thought that this was an extremely emotional read and would definitely recommend it!

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free e-arc!
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Thank you so much to NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC!

I was honored to receive an advance reader copy of Nancy Tandon’s “The Way I Say It.” I saw this book on Twitter and requested an ARC for it. Luckily I got it! 

Rory has a speech impediment, which is bad enough for a sixth-grade boy, but even worse when he can’t even pronounce his own name. Now he’s in middle school, dealing with fake friends, bullies, speech therapy, presentations, and more. When a terrible accident occurs, though, Rory has to rise to the challenge in a way he never expected. 

I read this book is one sitting, which is not something I usually do for longer books! I also rarely read contemporaries, which tells you how much I like this story! An early novel twist caught me very off guard, and this story went places I never expected. The characters pop off the pages, especially the speech therapist. Rory, too, feels very real with his conflicting feelings over his friend Brent. As a teacher, this book really spoke to me.  

This book is sweet and perfect for a middle grade audience. It teaches acceptance and understanding towards others on top of being educational. I learned a lot about Muhammad Ali myself! I highly recommend this story to anyone.
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Sixth grade is a transition year for most students as they navigate the changes that occur between elementary and middle school. From new friendships and passions to more challenging coursework and independence, this year can be particularly challenging. Rory Mitchell has the added complication of not being able to say the letter R, and with multiple presentations looming ahead of him, he is determined to do the work to not only speak with confidence, but also to finally know how to say his own name. As he settles into the school year and his former friend Brent is in a terrible bicycle accident, Rory must expand his approach to the world while becoming a more mature participant in it.

This middle grade story tackles several weighty topics within an elegant framework. Using the boxer Muhammad Ali as a frequent reference, Rory connects with a well-known leader who also had struggles despite his fame. Though Rory’s inability to say the letter R is a primary focus of the beginning of the book, the story transitions to highlight the myriad challenges Brent faces after his accident and Rory’s response to them. Bullying often occurs as well, and while these moments can be difficult for Rory, time and attention is spent to help readers understand the bully’s background and potential explanations for his behavior.

Short, concise chapters keep the plot moving quickly, developing the story through the course of a complete school year. The dialogue between characters is engaging and approachable, especially for middle grade readers. Each layer of the story unfolds in an intentional manner, constructing a compelling structure that is interconnected in myriad ways. No matter a reader’s age, connections to sixth grade are palpable in this narrative as Rory works to establish his place in his world.

Beautifully designed, this is an important and engaging book for middle grade readers. Rory has his own challenges, but he is not the only one who must navigate the complications that come with sixth grade. The struggle between empathy for Brent’s plight and anger for past behavior is a constant thread in the plot, showing readers how relationships can often be more complicated than they might initially seem. Readers of all ages will come away with important lessons from Rory’s story, and this is an especially noteworthy addition to libraries for middle grade readers.
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This is a lovely middle grade book that my SLP heart so happy.

I clearly requested this from Netgalley the moment I saw it dealt with an articulation disorder. I'm always looking for different kinds of representation for the kids that I serve and I was so excited to see this in a middle grade book. I also thought the TBI showcased an area of speech that most outsiders don't realize is under the SLP umbrella. I especially loved when Rory asked why Brent had to go to Speech because his speech is fine and Mr. Simms let him know that planning and organization of thoughts are parts of language. Yay for speech education!

There are some other good things in here too - loved seeing both his friends and parents give Rory positive feedback when his /r/ started generalizing to conversational speech and I loved that  could see Mr. Simms use a variety of speech strategies. One thing I will point out here (that I think most school SLPs would want noted) is that this laid back schedule of a school SLP really doesn't exist. I could go into further detail, but that's not what this story is about. Just wanted to point out that that's a nice dream that most school SLPs don't have as a reality.

So for the story itself, I thought it dealt with some nice middle grade themes of bullying, forgiveness, being proud of who you are and what you've accomplished, and surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good to be you. The interactions with that core group of 6 kids were really sweet. I also liked that it showed a little bit of Danny's home life because I think that's something we should be aware of - many kids that are that mean to other kids are usually compensating for something, even if it's not something that's immediately visible. 

This was a really sweet story. I will definitely be recommending it to my future /r/ kids and my colleagues.
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Thank you to the publisher for the e-ARC of this title.

I really enjoyed this book, and thought it did a great job dealing with a number of issues. Though stuttering has been represented in a handful of titles, Rory's speech challenges are rather unique in my reading, but common among my students. I look forward to seeing this book on classroom shelves.
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What do you do when your name is Rory and you’re going into sixth grade and you can’t even pronounce your own name. Rory is a smart, musical kid with a speech impediment. He has difficulty saying the letter r. It doesn’t matter if it is at the start of a word, or snuggled up inside a word, the letter r trips him up, and according to some people, makes him sound like a baby. He is made fun of because of the way he talks. A fall out with his former best friend, Brent, also adds to his troubles. Bullying is a strong contender in this middle grade novel. You can feel Rory’s pain and frustration. He really wants to get his letters and words right. He wants to sound like everyone else.

Rory regularly sees a speech teacher, Mr Simms, at school and it is this relationship which holds the key to making things right. Both are fans of the boxer Muhammad Ali, and both fans of good music. Both of these things play a significant role in helping Rory overcome his speech problems and his understanding and dealing with issues concerning Brent.

When an accident happens and his used-to-be best friend, but now enemy and bully number one is seriously hurt in hospital with a brain injury, Rory becomes confused about his feelings and struggles with doing the right thing.

The power of this novel is seeing the growth in characters. They are believable and I found myself drawn to them all, even the bullies. Writing that connects you to the characters, is good writing. Rory’s friend Tyson brings lots of humour to the story too, and just like in middle grade school, there are crushes and mixed emotions and even mixed up crushes.

A good solid read, with a mix of humour, bullying, being different, brain injuries, and friendships. Really enjoyed this read.
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I was so excited to read this book. Having dealt with a speech impediment myself, I was looking forward to reading Rory's journey. However, I quickly discovered a lackluster and confusing plot. The main gist is that Rory and his best friend Brent had a massive falling out. So when Brent has a bad accident resulting in brain damage, Rory acts like he could care less. This led me to believe that Brent must have done something truly horrible. The lack of empathy and compassion was surprising for me to read, especially in a book that's supposedly about understanding differences. I kept reading thinking that Brent and his friends were deplorable and everything would become clear. But the grand reveal?


He was jealous and insulted Brent first, announcing to everyone that Brent still sleeps with a stuffed animal. This led Brent to defend himself and tell everyone that Rory wet the bed. This entire argument is extremely juvenile. I know they are children... but is a silly spat like that really worth claiming that you don't care that your "best friend" was hit by a car? When Rory tells his mother the whole story, he isn't held accountable for any of his actions. There was no clear lesson. Because of that, I can't recommend this book to a single child.

Another part that bothered me was the amount of times Rory felt compelled to call out the school bully. Not for anything the school bully did... but for his mother's occupation. To quote: "I think about what it would feel like to walk around knowing your mom has to clean floors instead of being a manager at a big company because she stole money." The blatant classism in this statement shocked me. Stealing money is horrible. It sucks his mother did that. But the fact she has to mop floors? WHO CARES. My mother mopped floors and I didn't walk around with a dark cloud of shame. When Rory and his friends are at the hospital and they see the bully's mother mopping floors, they act like its such a dark secret. It's not. It's a job that deserves just as much respect as anything else. I didn't understand why Rory was so focused on the occupation. I don't see how I'm supposed to see Rory as a sympathetic character. I just don't.

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Rory is a fan of raucous rock, which is really worrying as he cannot pronounce his r's.  Everything is a wussy wubble-you, instead, and his best mate of the previous years is making it known that the friendship is over.  Freshly at middle school, Rory's new speech therapist is a fan of getting more Metallica, and Muhammad Ali fights, into Rory's mentality – with a spurious end-of-year school event as a deadline, can Rory's speech become perfect, or will other surprising events get in the way?

The best books for kids can, of course, also be perfect reads for adults, too, but this was much more exclusive to its target age range.  Rory is a decent character – polite, intelligent, great at music apparently, and possessor of quite a few good friends, but the narrative has to saddle him with boring bullies, while preventing itself at every opportunity from saying what happened in the previous year that ended the specific friendship.  That said, the writer must have had to engage the same mindset as Rory, pre-judging everything he says in case an errant r slips in, almost as if this was an Oulipo exercise.

But my very mention of 'surprising events' means this is not exclusively about Rory's lot, in a way I was certainly not expecting.  Which is probably a good thing, for once over that particular hurdle the narrative is very predictable – pleasant, but predictable.  And I don't want to turn into the people who have been over-quick to shout "that's karma for you!" against me at relevant points in my own life, but the more the book deferred the big reveal of the previous year, the more and more things went on closely following Rory's mindset, the more I knew he was right and this was a kind of karma at play.  Which is not the intent, and which is proven incorrect when the reveal finally does limp on to the page.  What I took from that was that the author, although trying very hard to have a complex and rich story people could relate to, was certainly not in charge of how adult readers reacted to her output.  I dare say it's fine for middle-schoolers, but the novel's flaws are a little too evident for us adults.  Three and a half stars.
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There were many aspects to this story that were very poignant. I like how the life story of Muhammad Ali was integrated skillfully and purposefully. I think it will be highly regarded when it is published. However, I took issue with several things:
Rory’s mother was so invalidating- the way she forced him to go to Brent, and told him to take the high road. He was being badly bullied, and I was so disappointed with how she dealt with it. I think evoking pity / sympathy for the bully is a dangerous thing to do. 
Also, why was Brent sent back to school so soon? What happened on the bus, at the dance, in the library was shocking. His “support” was a para who walks him in, and a speech teacher?? That did not make sense to me. 
I loved the ending. 
I wish there was a way to address these issues...
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Imagine being an anxious sixth grader named Rory who can’t yet pronounce the letter r, stressing about giving both an oral presentation worth 30% of his grade and having to introduce himself at his Step-Up ceremony?  Rory has much more going on than his speech difficulties. 
     Friendship dynamics shift a lot as middle schoolers and navigating those waters leaves Rory feeling as if he’s drowning. When a former friend is critically injured resulting in a traumatic brain injury, he has to look hard into himself to see past his own hurt to do right by Brent. 
     An empathetic speech pathologist, Mr. Simms,  who thinks outside the box makes all the difference in the world to Rory’s life.  Rory’s self-confidence builds, he helps him realize his strengths, and teaches him far more than how to say the letter r. Mr. Simms plucks one little snippet brought up in conversation to make a connection that sparks Rory’s interest and turns into his big sixth grade project. As a teacher, I admired Mr. Simms for the way he took a student’s interest in a topic and used it to light the fire for Rory in a way that was relevant and fun. He’s the teacher we all wish we’d had and want to be. I’d recently read Becoming Muhammad Ali by Kwame Alexander and I had so many connections as I read.
     This was a brilliant story to promote empathy, shed light on speech difficulties in the older grades, and teach the reader about the effects of traumatic brain injury. I loved the way the relationships between the characters were explored and changed throughout the book. I’m torn between this becoming a book club choice for my students or a class read aloud
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As if starting middle school wasn't hard enough, Rory can't say his own name because he still has trouble pronouncing his r's.  It also doesn't help that his ex-best friend, Brent now hangs out with the lacrosse team who never passes up the opportunity to bully Rory. He gets some reprieve from his new speech therapist who shares his love of Metallica and introduces him to Muhammed Ali.  When Brent suffers a brain injury after a bicycle accident, Rory struggles with his feelings about it.  Why should he care about his ex-friend when Brent never stood up for him? Fans of OUT OF MY MIND, WONDER and FISH IN A TREE will enjoy this compelling story of friendship, courage and empathy.  Highly recommend this to librarians and teachers looking for their next great read aloud book.   #thewayisayit #nancytandon
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Rory and Brent.  Best friends forever…until they aren’t.  Sixth grade is definitely not the same when best friends don’t even speak to one another anymore.  And for Rory, the year is going from bad to worse as Danny, the one who instigates most of the derisive comments and name-calling connected to his continuing fight to pronounce the letter “r” correctly, seems to be Brent’s new bff. Everything changes when Brent is injured and left with struggles far more severe than just saying some words incorrectly and is now Danny’s newest target instead of his friend. Like middle grade kids everywhere, Rory must make serious choices in class and out and readers will relate mightily as friendships change and significant decisions are made. Nancy Tandon’s characters are well-developed and the plot progresses briskly with enough variation to other MG school stories that readers will not feel like they have been there before.  Brain injury and speech difficulties are not the usual battles in other realistic fiction and the target age group should come away with new understanding of those around them.  Added bonus? The life of Muhammad Ali and the rock of the 80s is sprinkled liberally throughout!! Highly recommended for collections focused on grades 4-7 with no red flags in areas of profanity, sexual content and violence is limited to one fight that is crucial to the characters’ growth.
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I've finished reading my first digital arc from NetGalley, "The Way I Say It," by Nancy Tandon, which, I am relieved to say, is a beautifully written book about real child situations. I say "relieved," because Nancy is a member of my writers' group, this is her debut novel, and things could have been awkward, since my followers here are aware that I'm a little picky in my reading. (To be honest, in my head I talk about books the way the legendary Roy Kent on "Ted Lasso" talks about soccer.)

In our writers' group, we are all working on a number of things. Some of these projects go back a while and as new members come into the group, they may not be aware of what individuals were working on in the past. And some of us, yes, I mean me, may be a little irregular in our attendance. So while I was aware of this book and that it was being submitted to agents and when agents got involved and when it was sold, my knowledge was what you might call superficial.

For instance, I thought "The Way I Say It" was about a kid with a speech impediment and how he deals with it. I would argue that's not the basic story here. The basic story, to me, is far more sophisticated. It's about a kid, who happens to have a speech issue, dealing with his anger and guilt over a failed relationship and how that impacts his world during sixth grade.

I hate to go into too much detail, since there were a couple of points where I actually exclaimed while reading this book, because I am so lazy that I didn't even read all the flap copy. I don't want to take that experience away from other readers. (Don't read the flap copy!)

So I'll talk about some other things.

What Do I Mean By Real Child Situations?

Over the years, I've found that many middle grade novels, especially the ones that are warmly embraced by gatekeepers, deal with situations adults find...uh, shall we say...terrifying? Dead parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, divorce, terminal illnesses, chronic disease, war, and the ever popular demented old people, for example. I'm not saying these aren't terrifying situations or that they never happen within children's families. But there's a whole other category of issues that are important to children and focusing on the major life problems that adults find important all the time suggests that children's problems are not valuable enough to showcase in books for them.

In "The Way I Say It," Nancy Tandon deals with a school year full of these types of issues. Fear of humiliation and not being included, struggles to deal with uncomfortable interactions, beginning to want to spend time with members of the opposite sex, getting started on a new school year and having to rebuild relationships or make new ones. Starting a new school year is like starting a new job, people. We think starting a new job is important, don't we? Why isn't starting the new school year enough without killing someone off or breaking up a marriage to go along with it?

Write Who You Are
I don't like to use the expression "write what you know," because, first, it's a cliche and, second, it has become somewhat controversial. People get very hot under the collar about what it means and what it has to do with them. I prefer "write who you are." Nancy Tandon is a speech therapist. I believe that's why the great deal of speech therapy talk in her book sounds natural and normal to the moment where it takes place. She drew upon who she is to create details for her main character and the teacher who plays a big part in his sixth-grade life and for various situations she puts them into.
It's true you can research whatever you want to write about. But there used to be an expression I'd see in book reviews, "don't let the research show." That can be difficult to do if you haven't had an opportunity to live with or maybe work with that research for a while. It can create information dumps or at least sound forced. "The Way I Say It" illustrates the value of writing who you are.

"The Way I Say It" will be published Jan. 18, 2022 by Charlesbridge. I'm excited to see how it will do.
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Absolutely loved this book about Rory finding out he can be brave when things become challenging. Rory has to have speech therapy and is bullied for his speech impediment. His former friend, Brent, has called him a loser and that hurts. When Rory starts speech therapy with his cool teacher, Mr. Simms, things become interesting. Mr. Simms introduces Rory to the life of Muhammad Ali. They both bond over music and when Rory chooses Ali for an oral project, Mr. Simms shows Rory how when Ali couldn’t predict how things would go, he kept trying. When Brent suffers a brain injury and eventually comes back to school, Brent must also work with Mr, Simms. Both boys work on the Ali project and realize that sometimes when things can be hard, you need someone to help lift you. Such an inspirational book.
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Rory still can't say his r's, but that's just the beginning of his troubles. First Rory's ex-best-friend Brent started hanging out with the mean lacrosse kids. But then, a terrible accident takes Brent out of school, and Rory struggles with how to feel.

Rory and his new speech teacher put their heads together on Rory's r's (not to mention a serious love of hard rock and boxing legend Muhammad Ali), but nobody seems to be able to solve the problem of Rory's complicated feelings about Brent. Brent's accident left him with a brain injury and he's struggling. Should Rory stand up for his old friend at school--even after Brent failed to do the same for him?

So this book was fantastic for so many reasons! I loved the writing style, the characters, the story… but most of all I loved the messages it sent to its readers. 

As a junior high school teacher I related to Rory in this novel as a kid who is a little different and struggles with everyday school life as a result. I love the fact that Tandon has also tackled issues such as speech difficulties and the more serious impact of brain injuries but in a sensitive way that children can learn from. 

This is def a book that I would love to use in my English lessons as it teaches children the importance of friendship, acceptance, difference, respect whilst also introducing them to topics that are possibly difficult to talk about and understand.


#bookreviewsbymrsc #thewayisayit #nancytandon
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