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Silent to the Bone [Paperback]

E.L. Konigsburg
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (181 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What happened on Wednesday, November 25, 2:43 P.M., Eastern Standard Time, to cause Branwell Zamborska to become mute? All anyone knows is that he called 911 because his baby sister, Nikki, had stopped breathing, and when he was unable to speak to the operator, Vivian, the English au pair, came on the line to say that Branwell had dropped the baby and shaken her. His best friend, Connor, begins visiting him at the juvenile behavioral center, where he has been sent while Nikki remains in a coma at the hospital. Working out a code they both can use, Connor begins the long process of trying to communicate with his friend to find out what really happened. With the help of his own half-sister and some canny detective work, Connor uncovers a complex, multilayered tale of human desires, adolescent confusion, and a touch of menace.

E.L. Konigsburg, brilliant Newbery Medal-winning author of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View from Saturday, has honed her skills to a fine point. Her keen understanding of young people is matched by her ability to create suspenseful, page-turning masterpieces. This beautifully written story is darker than some of her others, with a remarkably true glimpse into a young man's inner world. (Ages 10 to 14) --Emilie Coulter --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"This middle-grade novel combines a plot loosely based on a real case with a taut psychological mystery. The author inlays the story with tantalizing facts and peoples it with her hallmark idiosyncratic characters and joins every element seamlessly," said PW's Best Books citation. Ages 10-14.

From School Library Journal

"Part detective and suspense story, this multilayered novel is much more, touching on themes of communication, relationships in blended families, being different, friendship, adolescence, and shame."
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Did the British nanny do it? She says it was 13-year-old Branwell who dropped his baby sister, Nikki, and he's the prime suspect. Why has he been struck dumb? What does he know? Is his silence a weapon? Is it survivor guilt? Shame? Konigsburg gets behind today's tabloid headlines with a compelling mystery that is also a moving story of family, friendship, and seduction. The story is told by Branwell's best friend, Connor, who visits the Juvenile Detention Center and tries to get Branwell to communicate by blinking his eyes at letters and flash cards. Like Branwell, Connor is also part of a tense stepfamily, where he feels abandoned by a parent's remarriage. And Connor has another link with the accused: he understands his friend's attraction to the sexy babysitter, Vivian, especially when he learns that she has a habit of leaving the bathroom door open when she takes a bath. Everything makes you want to go back and reread the story, not only to think about the clues and suspects you missed the first time around (What exactly does the tape of the 911 call reveal?) but also for the wit and insight, the farce, and the gentleness of the telling. As in Laurie Halse Anderson's Printz Honor Book, Speak (1999), the mutism is an eloquent part of the narrative. Like his silent friend, Connor comes to know the power of keeping quiet, that "the cruelest lies are often told in silence." Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

Read by Howard McGillin
5 hours 19 minutes, 4 cassettes

On Wednesday, November 25, at 2:43 pm, Eastern Standard Time, Branwell Zamborska is struck dumb. Nikki, his baby half sister, has slipped into a coma. Branwell dials 911, but when the emergency operator answers, he cannot speak. He cannot explain what is wrong. He cannot utter a sound. Vivian Shawcurt, the au pair from England, takes over. She tells the emergency medical team that Branwell dropped Nikki and shook her.

As Branwell's best friend, Connor investigates the events leading up to the silence, he slowly discovers what Branwell's problems really are and what it takes to help Branwell reveal what happened that Wednesday afternoon.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

E.L. Konigsburg is the only author to have won the Newbery Medal and be runner-up in the same year. In 1968, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the Newbery Medal and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth was named a Newbery Honor Book. Almost thirty years later she won the Newbery Medal once again for The View From Saturday. She has also written and illustrated three picture books: Samuel Todd’s Book of Great Colors, Samuel Todd’s Book of Great Inventions, and Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdale’s. In 2000 she wrote Silent to the Bone, which was named a New York Times Notable Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, among many other honors.

After completing her degree at Carnegie Mellon University, Ms. Konigsburg did graduate work in organic chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. For several years she taught science at a private girls’ school. When the third of her three children started kindergarten, she began to write. She now lives on the beach in North Florida.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One: Days One, Two, & Three

It is easy to pinpoint the minute when my friend Branwell began his silence. It was Wednesday, November 25, 2:43 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. It was there -- or, I guess you could say not there -- on the tape of the 911 call.


Operator: Epiphany 911. Hobson speaking.

SILENCE.

Operator: Epiphany 911. Hobson. May I help you?

SILENCE. [Voices are heard in the background.]

Operator: Anyone there?

A woman's voice [screaming in the background]: Tell them. Tell them.

Operator: Ma'am, I can't hear you. [then louder] Please come to the phone.

A woman's voice [still in the background, but louder now]: Tell them. [then, screaming as the voice approaches] For God's sake, Branwell. [the voice gets louder] TELL THEM.

SILENCE.

Operator: Please speak into the phone.

A woman's voice [heard more clearly]: TELL THEM. NOW, BRAN. TELL THEM NOW.

SILENCE.

A woman's voice with a British accent [heard clearly]: Here! Take her! For God's sake, at least take her! [then, speaking directly into the phone] It's the baby. She won't wake up.

Operator: Stay on the phone.

British Accent [frightened]: The baby won't wake up.

Operator: Stay on the line. We're transferring you to Fire and Rescue.

Male Voice: Epiphany Fire and Rescue. Davidson. What is the nature of your emergency?

British Accent: The baby won't wake up.

Male Voice: What is your exact location?

British Accent: 198 Tower Hill Road. Help, please. It's the baby.

Male Voice: Help is on the way, ma'am. What happened?

British Accent: He dropped her. She won't wake up.

Male Voice: Is she having difficulty breathing?

British Accent [panicky now]: Yes. Her breathing is all strange.

Male Voice: How old is the baby, ma'am?

British Accent: Almost six months.

Male Voice: Is there a history of asthma or heart trouble?

British Accent: No, no. He dropped her, I tell you.

LOUD BANGING IS HEARD.

British Accent [into the phone]: They're here. Thank God. They're here. [then just before the connection is broken] For God's sake, Branwell, MOVE. Open the door.


The SILENCES were Branwell's. He is my friend.

The baby was Nicole -- called Nikki -- Branwell's half sister.

The British accent was Vivian Shawcurt, the baby-sitter.

In the ambulance en route to the hospital, Vivian sat up front with the driver, who was also a paramedic. He asked her what had happened. She told him that she had put the baby down for her afternoon nap and had gone to her room. After talking to a friend on the phone, she had started to read and must have dozed off. When the paramedic asked her what time that was, she had to confess that she did not know. The next thing she remembered being awakened by Branwell's screaming for her. Something was wrong with the baby. When she came into the nursery, she saw Branwell shaking Nikki, trying to get her to wake up. She guessed that the baby went unconscious when he dropped her. She started to do CPR and told Branwell to call 911. He did, but when the operator came on the line, he seemed paralyzed. He would not give her the information she needed. He would not speak at all.

Meanwhile the paramedic who rode with the baby in the ambulance was following the ABC's for resuscitation -- airway, breathing, and circulation. Once inside the trauma center at Clarion County Hospital, Nikki was put on a respirator and wrapped in blankets. It was important to keep her warm. A CAT scan was taken of her head, which showed that her injuries could cause her brain to swell. When the brain swells, it pushes against the skull, and that squeezes the blood vessels that supply the brain. If the supply of blood to the brain is pinched off, the brain cannot get oxygen, and it dies.

The doctor drilled a hole in Nikki's skull and put in a small tube -- no thicker than a strand of spaghetti -- to drain excess fluid from her brain to lower the pressure. Nikki did not open her eyes.

Later that afternoon, a police car arrived at 198 Tower Hill Road and took Branwell to the Clarion County Juvenile Behavioral Center. He said nothing. Nothing to the doctors. Nothing to his father, to his stepmother. Calling to Vivian was the last that Branwell had spoken. He had not uttered a sound since dialing 911.


Dr. Zamborska, Branwell's father, asked me to visit him at the Behavioral Center and see if I could get him to talk. I am Connor, Connor Kane, and -- except for the past six weeks or so -- Branwell and I had always been best friends.

When Dr. Z called me, he reported that the pressure in Nikki's skull was dropping, and that was a good sign, but, he cautioned, she was still in a coma. She was in critical condition, and there was no way of knowing what the outcome would be.

I was not allowed to see Branwell until Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. On that first visit to the Behavioral Center and on all the visits that followed, I had to stop at a reception desk and sign in. There I would empty my pockets and, when I had my backpack with me, I would have to open it as well. If I had nothing that could cause harm to Branwell or could let him cause harm to someone else (I never did), I was allowed to put it all back and take it with me.

That first time the guard brought Branwell into the visitors' room, he looked awful. His hair was greasy and uncombed, and he was so pale that the orange jumpsuit he wore cast an apricot glow up from his chin just as his red hair seemed to cast the same eerie glow across his forehead. He shuffled as he walked toward me. I saw that his shoes had no laces. I guessed they had taken them from him.

Branwell is tall for his age -- I am not -- and when he sat across the table from me, I had to look up to make eye contact, which was not easy. His eyeglasses were so badly smudged that his blue eyes appeared almost gray. It was not at all like him to be uncombed and to have his glasses smeared like that. I guessed the smudges were to keep him from seeing out, just as his silence was to keep him from speaking out.

On that first awful, awkward visit, a uniformed guard stood leaning against the wall, watching us. There was no one else in the visitors' room, and I was the only one talking, so everything I said, every sound I made, seemed to echo off the walls. I felt so responsible for getting Branwell to talk that I asked him a bunch of dumb questions. Like: What happened? And: Was there anything he wanted to tell me? He, of course, didn't utter a sound. Zombielike, he slowly, slowly, slowly shook his head once, twice, three times. This was not the Branwell I knew, and yet, strangely, it was.

Dr. Zamborska had asked me to visit Bran because he figured that I probably knew Branwell better than anyone else in Epiphany -- except for himself. And because we had always seemed to have a lot to say to each other. We both loved to talk, but Branwell loved it more. He loved words. He had about five words for things that most people had only one word for, and could use four of five in a single sentence. Dr. Z probably figured that if anyone could get Bran to talk, it would be me. Talk was like the vitamins of our friendship: Large daily doses kept it healthy.

But when Dr. Z had asked me to visit Branwell, he didn't know that about six weeks before that 911 call something had changed between us. I didn't know what caused it, and I didn't exactly know how to describe it. We had not had a fight or even a quarrel, but ever since Monday, Columbus Day, October 12, something that had always been between us no longer was. We still walked to the school bus stop together, we still got off at the same stop, and we still talked. But Branwell never seemed to start a conversation anymore. He not only had less time for me, he also had less to say to me, which, in terms of our friendship, was pretty much the same thing. He seemed to have something hidden.

We had both turned thirteen within three weeks of each other, and at first I wondered if he was entering a new phase of development three weeks ahead of me. Was something happening to him that would happen to me three weeks later? Had he started to shave? I looked real close. He hadn't. (I was relieved.) Had he become a moody teenager, and would I become one in three more weeks? Three weeks passed, and I didn't. Then six weeks passed -- the six weeks between Columbus Day and that 911 call -- and I still had not caught the moodiness that was deepening in my friend. And I still did not know what was happening to Bran.

After that first strange, clouded visit, I decided that if I was going back (and I knew that I would), nothing good was going to come out of my visits unless I forgot about our estrangement, forgot about having an assignment from Dr. Z, and acted like the old friend I was.

* * *

Once on our way to the school bus stop in the days when Branwell was still starting conversations, he asked me a famous question: "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" When he asked me, I couldn't answer and neither could he, but when I left him that first Friday of his long silence, I thought that Branwell could answer it. On that day and for all the days that followed when he made no sound, my friend Branwell was screaming on the inside. And no one heard.

Except me.

So when Branwell at last broke his silence, I was there. I was the first to hear him speak. He spoke to me because even before I knew the details, I believed in him. I knew that Branwell did not hurt that baby.

I won't say what his first words were until I explain what I heard during the time he said nothing.

Copyright © 2000 by E. L. Konigsburg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From AudioFile

What if your best friend were to stop talking one day after a terrible accident? What might you do if your friend were charged with causing his infant sister to slip into a coma? Howard McGillin's measured reading of Connor Kane's first-person narration lends credibility to the events he relates while simultaneously keeping the listener at an emotional distance that the text itself may not require. Connor recounts his journey to untangle the mystery that has stolen his friend's words. Everyday, at the Clarion County Juvenile Behavioral Center, he visits his friend. Gradually, he relates pieces of the mystery he uncovers: the infatuation and semi-sexual encounters with the seductive British au pair, Vivien; the neglect and mistreatment of the baby; the final life-threatening abuse. This is an intelligent, though not powerful, performance. T.B. © AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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