If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say is a book that begins with a warning; that this isn’t the book for you if you like perfect, likeable protagonists. This anti-hero per-say is named Winter Halperin, a high school senior who writes something on social media one day before bed: “We learned many surprising things today. Like that dehnstufe is apparently a word, and that a black kid can actually win the Spelling Bee.” Upon seeing that at first glance, you’d be pretty offended, right, not knowing the context? Would it be stupid for me to even come to her defence that there is a context? You could just say “She just said someone of colour cannot spell as good as a white girl like her.” Well, what she meant was that the actual system of the Spelling Bee tournament is set up so that it’s rare for people of colour to win. Winter loves words. Her older sister Emerson is in one of the best performing arts schools in the world and has always felt like the favourite to Winter. But spelling was something she got a gift for, and like how kids love to know more about something than their guardians do, like Pokemon or a math equation that didn’t exist a decade ago, she thrived and loved words and the amazing stories and combinations they created. She’s a National Spelling Bee champion, but didn’t win against the girl who did win. But when she wakes up the next morning after writing that, she finds her phone having so many notifications it keeps beeping on and off, with people she doesn’t know sending her rape and death threats and messages saying she’s everything that’s wrong with the world. She tries to backpedal and apologize but her apology only turns the heat up more on polarized, adamant people paying attention to her. Even one of her best friends gives her the cold shoulder and doesn’t regard Winter’s reasonings as grounds for forgiveness, and the horror ends up slowly spilling across her own family. And she has no idea how she can make this better again, and if she’ll ever have anything close to a normal life back.
Look, white protagonists just aren’t as compelling in entertainment anymore. With U.S. president Trump, his current genocide of the Latinx and his constant discrimination of anyone who doesn’t port the same gender and race and world beliefs as he, and with white people being in charge of so much that is wrong with our world today, those who are white don’t seem like they can be victims of very bad circumstances in comparison anymore. Luckily, Sales puts Winter through abuse that rings up there, and Winter flat-out rejects solutions that would hurt her family even more than she already has. Her insistence of paying for care and rehabilitation with her own money was definitely the best part of the book.
The book also makes you think about human history, about about social issues that a lot of authors probably would’ve been worried to talk about for fear of antagonizing any of its audience by deviating from who the conventional pro-and-antagonists are. Let me share some quotes at the beginning of this book. Jon Ronson said: “We tend to relentlessly define people by the worst mistake they ever made.” The biography "Between the World and Me" said: “But what one ‘means’ is neither important nor relevant.” I thought about the centuries of slavery, I thought about how not everyone who has pleasurable entitlements in their lives believes in superiority to others but that a significant amount do, I thought about what privileged people should do with the rights they have, I thought about a Facebook post I saw that once said white gay people do nothing to help the Pride movement but stir up drama and rants, a post I deeply found disgusting, dishonest and uninformed, and about how sometimes second chances are warranted. This book asks you to think about the people who you are offended by the most; a former school bully, someone hesitant about a political issue, or maybe someone who committed a selfish crime. Are those people beyond repair? Should they never ever be allowed to try again? If they one day have an apology, would you be willing to let go of your spite and listen? What makes an apology warranted? How far must one go until someone just doesn’t deserve respect? Winter ends up making new friends at a place she goes to that have all done something the world has found despicable, and all of them are refreshingly double-layered and sympathy-worthy (Zeke might stretch it a bit, though.) A slight romance develops and it feels simple and sweet, both of them thinking more about who that person is before how cute that person is. Winter also ends up attempting something I was biting my nails over, because I felt it could really ruin her, and I expected a certain part of the story which actually didn’t go how I thought. Basically, there was very little I ended up predicting in this book, and all of it was as fast-paced as a contemporary book could be. You could probably finish this book in a day or two easily, reading slump or picky reader or not.
Apart from one very bad thing in the final chapter that really should’ve been talked over and taken out (like, how did that pass by so many people? You’ll know what I mean if you read it and a lot of other readers online agree with me), If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say sends all the right messages to social media users about microagressions and the war of the wide web that feeds off of the dangers of exposure, and knows how to tell the story in the right way to send its important messages.