IF YOU DON’T HAVE ANYTHING NICE TO SAY by Leila Sales – The hardest review I’ve ever written
May 1st, 2018 by Liza Wiemer


This provocative and relevant young adult novel is about Winter, a one-time National Spelling Bee Champ with a bright future ahead of her. That all changes after she haphazardly writes a racially offensive tweet that she thought was a harmless joke. What unfolds is a barrage of Internet shaming and rejection from her community and closest friends. Winter seeks to redeem herself, but first must come to terms with what she wrote and understand why there was so much backlash.

Deep breath. This is not an easy book to read and not an easy book to review. By far, this is the hardest review I’ve ever written. There are going to be people who despise this book, want to tear it to shreds, throw the book against the wall. There will be people who will read the first 10 pages and stop. I understand. I wanted to give up on it. This novel is painful! Really painful, so please if you’re struggling with it and you’re hurting, take care of YOU! It sits too close to home. We’ve watched this scene unfold way too many times on social media, and Leila Sales was brave to write about it. Brave, brave, brave, BRAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!

What I’m going to say next is very painful for me. I admit, I struggled. I put this book down. Winter Halpren (the MC) is NOT my kind of people. I don’t know anyone like her, and personally, I wish so much that her faith wasn’t a part of this story. This hurt, really, really hurt. When you’re a part of 0.2% of the world’s population and have experienced personally the most horrific hate and anti-Semitism, in my mind it felt like adding fuel to those who have hate in their hearts, just another reason to despise us.

Set that aside…Winter is a seventeen-year-old girl. I’m glad I read about her. And I know there’s much more to her than what’s on the pages. This novel has many, many, many layers. It will evoke emotion.

Here’s the thing…

Winter posted a despicable, inexcusable racist comment. She paid for it and deserved everything she lost. But I also ached for her. Because damn it! She’s seventeen. What she did online was the worst of the worst of F@#!#!!ing up!!!!

This book brought tears to my eyes. Tears of anger over what she did, tears of frustration for not recognizing the pain she caused and for focusing on her own pain, and yes, tears of compassion.

I was angry with Winter. I hurt for Winter. Maybe that’s the mom in me.

I’d like to bring up forgiveness. Some people will say that Winter should pay for the rest of her life. She unredeemable. Evil incarnate. Her sincerest of apologies will never be enough. Losing her dream is not enough. Losing a national title for something she worked hard for is not enough. It will never ever ever ever be enough. For what she wrote, she should DIE! (Better yet, she should kill herself.) Oh my gawd. No. No! That’s not okay, but there are people who really say these things to others online.

This is a novel that I believe will allow us to examine our beliefs on forgiveness. (Regarding Jason, a character in this novel. Thank you, Jason, for your big heart and for seeing the good in Winter.)

Obviously, I don’t speak for anyone but myself. But I believe that people can learn from their mistakes. I believe that Winter has a lot more growing up to do. And I believe that she has the ability to take what she’s done and add goodness to this world. There are no easy answers.

I hope that the anger, frustration, and all the other emotions a book like this brings up will be utilized for good! That we take it and vow to be a little kinder, a little more compassionate. That we take time to get to know others and hear a sliver of their story. That’s just a start. We can, we must be more. This world needs it.

Leila Sales was brave enough to open the window or hold up the mirror. This book takes you on an emotional journey. You can’t help but respond, react, feel. I hated what Winter did, despised what she did with every ounce of my soul, but I also found compassion for her. That says something big about Leila’s writing.

So, if you’re wondering if you should read this book, I can’t tell you. All I can say is that I’m glad I read to the very last page.

I can imagine that this was probably the hardest book Leila has ever written. She was brave to take this on. She’s brilliant writer. No, this wasn’t an easy book at all. Not at all.

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