I Can’t Tell You

By: Hillary Frank
Subject Matter: Interpersonal relations; Elective mutism; Letters; Puns and punning; Colleges and universities; Family problems
Rating: 3.5/5


I Can't Tell You book cover

I first read I Can’t Tell You sometime in middle school. And I’ve been recommending it ever since.

But it’s been long enough and I had sort of forgotten what I’d been recommending. So I decided to read it again myself.

I remember it being crude. But I think I had forgotten just how crude.

Hillary Frank‘s young adult novel is a tale of a male college freshman (Jake) and his friends and his relationships and his parents and mostly his inner conflicts. And it revolves around the college hookup/party scene. I think a lot of this probably went over my head when I first read it, but I also probably thought it was cool. I thought all college boys did was talk about sex and boobs and girls.

But what really made this novel stick in my head for so many years is the wordplay – what Jake calls “the funny.” It’s chock full of puns and wordplay and wit and sarcasm. Here’s one of Jake’s examples of the funny he overheard on the radio:

“And to give you extra incentive, as if our programming wasn’t enough, we’re going to do a drawing. For a bicycle!” All I could think was, “What would a BICYCLE do with a DRAWING? Hang it on it’s spokes?” It took me at least a minute to hear it the right way.

And my personal favorite? The use of the word “ri-cock-ulous” instead of ridiculous. Juvenile, I know, but funny! And punny.

When I first read this book, I remember thinking of Jake as a cool kid. Now? I think I would probably vomit if a boy said half the things that Jake says to his crush in this one. But, at it’s heart, it’s kind of cute.

Another way interesting facet of this book is how it’s written. The whole plot boils down to Jake’s decision to stop talking (elective mutism) because he always says the wrong thing; hence the title. So instead of your typical format, Frank wrote this book as a series of notes on napkins and school assignments and dry-erase boards. Half the fun is following where everything is being written.

I no longer know if I’d recommend this novel to just anyone. Mostly because it’s just.so.crude. But I have truly never forgotten the funny.

So if you’re a fan of wordplay, or if you’re really into interesting writing styles, or if reading about college boys getting some does it for you, then I think there’s a lot to find here. Maybe it’s a little much for young adults… but it is just downright fun to read.




If you enjoyed I Can’t Tell You, here are some suggestions:

(for really good young adult fiction)

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

(for nontraditional YA books)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

(for epistolary young narrators)

Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

(for more by Frank)

Better than Running at Night by Hillary Frank

The View from the Top by Hillary Frank

Frank also has a series of parenting podcasts called The Longest Shortest Time you should check out if you’re interested.


Coming up:

Andersen’s Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen

Growing Up by Russell Baker

The Vow by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter

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