**I was given a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.**
Outspoken by Lora Richardson
Published: August 18th, 2015 by Createspace
Genre(s): New adult, contemporary, romance, coming-of-age
Trigger Warnings: a casual mention of rape as backstory, but it’s not graphic or exploitative in the slightest
Pages: 252 pgs
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Penny Beck is a girl who says yes when she means no. She keeps to herself, follows the rules, and does what she’s told. After a disastrous experience with her boyfriend, she’s determined to change from the spineless person she’s always been into the strong woman she wants to become. All she needs is a little practice. On a cross-country trip to check on her grandpa, she strives to become bolder and more outspoken with the strangers she meets. Penny’s plan is to practice saying and doing what she wants without worrying about what anyone else thinks. Then she meets Archer, an introspective loner to whom she finds herself drawn. She realizes she does care what he thinks, very much. Will Penny be able to stick to her plan, or will she revert back to her people-pleasing ways?
As children, we’re conditioned to think that once we hit adulthood, we’re going to know exactly what to do and how to handle ourselves in any given situation. All it takes is to hit that mystical, elusive number: eighteen. At least in the United States, turning eighteen is a rite of passage in and of itself, as we’re now considered legal adults with a wide world of possibilities opening up solely due to our age. However, where some of us feel like adulthood and its corresponding responsibilities hits us too quickly, throwing everything off balance and quickly overwhelming everything manageable about life. Is there a wrong way to “adult”? Are we losing sight of ourselves by getting swept up in the undertow?
These musings are similar to the thoughts of Outspoken‘s protagonist, Penny Beck. After graduating high school and turning eighteen, she suffers a major identity crisis: she doesn’t exactly know who she is, as she’s been nothing but a glorified Yes Man during the entirety of her short life. Penny takes it upon herself to find her voice through putting a pause on her college plans and moving from her hometown in Montana to sleepy Well’s Cove, South Carolina to take care of her grandfather whose mental state is rapidly deteriorating due to Alzheimer’s. As she slowly becomes assimilated into the tight-knit coastal town, Penny finds herself losing more of her old, repressed self and settling into her new role of empowered adult. However, her parents and responsibilities are still an ever-present voice sounding in the back of her mind, calling her back to the mountainous area from which she hails. It’s up to her to decide where — and with whom — she should settle down and call home.
I wish I could say that I had anything negative to say about this book, but I honestly cannot find anything that warrants constructive criticism. Outspoken had me completely enraptured from the first page following a main character that resonated all too well with me and my recent struggles with new adulthood. Penny’s struggles were completely realistic: to go to college or not, to speak your mind or preserve a semblance of normalcy, make real friends or make practice friends. I really felt like she could be me in a different universe. Furthermore, I loved how all of the personal relationships between her and the other characters developed naturally, even though a few of the people came into her life as a result of circumstance. More often than not in young and new adult fiction, if there’s to be any kind of romantic element, the two involved in the budding romance develop an insta-love with each other, which can be extremely infuriating in stories that tout themselves to be realistic. Instead, Penny ends up attracting people with her natural, unfiltered personality, which ultimately leads to developing her own sense of self-confidence. Furthermore, I loved the way we actually got to know the actual citizens of Wells Cove to see exactly how the town operated; it’s not often that I read a book that incorporates people who aren’t just the main character’s immediate circle of friends. Additionally, Richardson’s writing style is breezy, conversational, just like Penny aims to be as she finds her own voice. It felt like, at times, that I was hearing a story told to me by my best friend. It was the type of writing that I could just sink myself into and feel immediately comfortable.
Another thing about Outspoken that really resonated with me was Richardson’s treatment of issues that I feel are very important to address among young women my age. Ultimately, Outspoken is about the empowerment of young women in the face of social pressures to keep quiet and conform in order to not upset the status quo, which is what Penny did her entire life. However, once she realized that it just wasn’t for her, she pulled her power from within to start breaking out of her shell, which is something a lot of women of this particular age group struggle or even feel able to do. There’s a great exchange between Penny and Archer, her new co-worker, when he defends her after another creepy co-worker tells her to smile. Archer feels like he has to defend her in the break room, even though Penny doesn’t feel like a helpless creature. She says, “Well, that was lovely. First you snap at me for no reason about peanuts, then you come in here and bulldoze over a situation I had under control.” This is one of the first of many instances where she truly lets her empowerment shine through. Additionally, Richardson handles personal histories like bodily autonomy and rape in a classy, elegant manner. Too often do I see writers treat rape survivors as victims rather than complex people, but Irene, one of Penny’s customers, opens up about how her past as a victim has ultimately made her a survivor. I cannot recall the last time where an author included that element of someone’s backstory into their work without it being exploitative or completely triggering. It was refreshing and wonderful to behold. Y’all should see the excited texts I sent to my friends and partner after I read that portion; I was genuinely very enthused.
Overall, Outspoken is a short, yet completely engaging read about one young woman’s journey to self-actualization. By creating actual, tangible characters in realistic situations, Richardson has accomplished something that few newer writers are able to achieve. In a genre saturated by heroes who are set out to save the country/universe/world, it’s a delight to see a piece that’s able to cut through the thematic bullshit and just get to the point: tell a good, engaging story that resonates with its intended audience. I cannot write enough good things about it and, dare I say, this might just be one of my new favorite books.
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