Suzanne LaFleur, Listening for Lucca

Puffin, 2013, ISBN 978-0-141-33607-7

Thirteen year-old Siena doesn’t fit in well with her peers at her Brooklyn school. She has vivid, disturbing dreams, which eventually even her one friend tires of hearing about, and is obsessed with collecting abandoned things. She adores her little brother Lucca, who never speaks, a cause of anguish to the family, with both their mother and Siena holding themselves guiltily responsible.

Siena’s dream world and reality become increasingly intertwined. Her parents move them to Maine, to an old house they have chosen because it seems so similar to the one Siena has told them about from her dreams. They hope the move will break down the barriers that stop Lucca talking, and make Siena less isolated. To her surprise, she makes friends easily, with an elderly woman who tells her more about the house’s history, and a boy and girl her own age. Sam especially accepts Siena and her unusual traits, and Siena loves his rapport with Lucca.

The house feels eerily familiar to Siena. Both she and Lucca have a sense it is haunted. She finds herself caught up in a period from its past. When she uses a pen that belonged to a girl who once lived there, the words that emerge are not hers but Sarah’s. After Sarah’s brother Joshua goes off to fight in the second world war, her cousin persuades her that the only way to ensure his return is to stop speaking, a potent link to Siena’s family’s situation. Her dreams now change. She realises that she is dreaming Joshua’s terrifying wartime experiences, experiences that leave him a changed man. His homecoming is tragic. The house is pervaded by sorrow and silence. Siena is convinced that if she can change Sarah and Joshua’s story, somehow she will give Lucca the power to choose whether to speak or not. She goes back in time, and talks to Joshua.

This is an unusual and compelling novel, with an appealingly mysterious plot. The characters are interesting and convincing, particularly Siena and Lucca. The selective mutism theme is handled with great sensitivity. Suzanne LaFleur is an excellent story-teller.