Cover of "When She Hollers"

Cover of When She Hollers

By Mandy Webster

When She Hollers. Cynthia Voigt. Scholastic Inc. New York. 1994

When She Hollers, a YA novel by Cynthia Voigt, is the story of the day Tish decides to tell the truth about the abuse she has suffered at the hands of her step-father. Spurred by her teacher’s chalk message in the classroom, “The truth will set you free,” Tish is determined to let the truth be known.

The entire novel takes place in the space of one day, a day which begins at the breakfast table where Tish informs her step-father, Tonnie that the knife she holds in her hand will be with her now at all times… when she is in the bathroom and when she is in her bed at night.

Tish tries to explain to her mother that Tonnie comes into her room and even stalks her in the bathroom, but her mother refuses to hear her. She goes to school and tries to be her normal self, whoever that is.

The events of the day unfold, as conversations about a classmate who recently committed suicide stir Tish into further action. One scene  rolls directly into the next as seemingly small interactions snowball into the final ‘holler,’ when Tish screams at the PhysEd teacher who tries to force her to remove her boots, where the knife is hidden.

I am glad Voigt depicts Tish as a girl who gets good grades and is capable of hanging out with other kids and appearing ‘normal.’ I think too often, children of abuse are depicted as trouble makers, kids who obviously have problems that need to be fixed. But Tish, like many abused youth, is seemingly normal. Despite a drop in grades around the time that the abuse began, she tries to maintain some sense of balance in a life which has been utterly turned upside down.

When She Hollers illustrates how the child of abuse may be sitting right next to your own child at lunch. This novel also shows the battle of emotions that takes place in the mind of any person who is being abused. It explains the many coping mechanisms a person might take advantage of to survive, in terms adults and young adults alike can understand. The novel also explains why the abused so often suffer in silence.

The final message of When She Hollers is a message of hope, the importance of reaching out to someone when you recognize they need help, even if you don’t completely understand what is wrong or what it is they need. Because, all too often, the warning signs go unnoticed, the truth is locked away in the darkness of a little girl’s bedroom, her cries are never heard.

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They didn’t believe a word of what she said. They believed Tish was lying.

Tish shrugged at her audience, let them believe what they wanted to, and now that she’d made up that whole long stupid story, she thought about the question. Now that there was no danger, she would open her mouth and tell the truth.

“Because it’s degrading to have to lie,” Trish said.

That was it, exactly, and she said the word again because it was so perfect.


Then everyone was quiet…