All great art should have three essential qualities: It should either entertain or be aesthetic in some way. It should be provocative. And it should be relevant to the culture and preferably with timeless themes. Robb Grindstaff’s HANNAH’S VOICE has all three of these qualities.
Hannah Cross is an honest but precocious six-year-old girl who wants to be believed when she tells the truth, and she doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. She doesn’t get either wish, and over the course of a week she stops talking. If she doesn’t talk, no one will accuse her of lying. If she doesn’t talk, she can’t cause problems. But quickly her church becomes divided over her silence and problems come to her door. One faction believes she has visions and is a prophet of God. The other is convinced she’s possessed with a demon, and a exorcism gets interrupted when the police and Child Protective Services steps in and whisks her away to foster care, separating little Hannah from her momma.
Ten years later, Hannah still doesn’t talk, but every night she prays to be reunited with her momma. Through a series of events, the controversy surrounding her suddenly resurges and gains national attention. Now with the impending Presidential election, two factions wanting control of Hannah-- and her voice-- as their icon start to divide the nation. All she wants is to be left alone, find her momma, and have some pancakes.
The theme of truth is explicit and richly woven into Grindstaff’s prose. Hannah brushes her teeth vigorously when she’s a young child so no lie will stick to her teeth. And she stops talking because answering the same question three or four times doesn’t make the truth any truer. However, she’s exploited for other people’s agendas, and for them the truth is subjective and can be subverted for the “greater good” of their end goals. Since this novel has a political component to it, in addition to the obvious religious one, the theme of truth and the twisting of such for ideology expose the ugliness of placing agenda ahead of virtue. This contrasts beautifully with the people in Hannah’s life, who live for truth and simple righteousness and love Hannah as the girl she really is.
Robb Grindstaff’s writing is pure, and free of the hyperbole and love for one’s own words that often get in the way of a good story. His deft handling of the character and personality of Hannah at two distinct stages in her life showcases his mastery of language and characterization. He carefully chose each word to show the ten year difference in Hannah’s life while staying true to who she really is. That is no small feat.
I only had one issue, which I hesitate to bring up. As with some of the characters in the novel, I am offended by the use of the Lord’s name in vain. The usage is rare, and in one spot is both ironic and necessary. With the exception of that one caveat, HANNAH’S VOICE is breathtaking and a rare treat. And I can’t help but wonder, with religion being a major element of the novel and with Hannah’s selective mutism, if the author chose her name because of the Biblical Hannah, who had a son by the name of Samuel, meaning “God has heard”.
To learn more about the novel and how to buy it, please go here.