Plot: Engle's Metal Mouth ties a compelling romance to an unpredictable mystery and finds in both thoughtful contemporary resonance. After getting struck by lightning, teen Mahlorie begins hearing the thoughts of a boy named Dyson in her head, and Dyson likewise hears hers. As the two grow intimate, Mahlorie considers urgent questions about whether she could love someone she hasn't seen or who might not be conventionally attractive. Also strong are the hints at a scientific explanation (involving metal braces!) for the teenagers' connection and the suggestions that it might actually be supernatural. The climax of the book's first section is rushed and abrupt, and readers will wonder why Mahlorie doesn't search for information about Dyson online much earlier than she does, but Metal Mouth overall stands as a sharply plotted pleasure.
Prose/Style: The chatter of Engle's teen characters is buoyant and appealing. Her descriptions are brisk and clear, and she deftly charts Mahlorie's consciousness, keeping the flow of thought strong and memorable. Engle's prose, like the protagonist, has the spark of electricity to it, and the author excels at the surprising joke or the on-the-fly observation that invites readers to linger. Once in a while, though, in scenes of action, that flow of thought gushes too quickly, and readers don't always receive a clear image of what's physically happening in Mahlorie's world, as in the scene involving a swamp and an alligator.
Originality: Readers may guess at some of the surprises that Engle has in store, but certainly not all of them. Other familiar YA novels take on some similar elements involving comas, car accidents, and possible supernatural connections, but Engle imbues the material with new life, heart, and inventiveness. The author is especially good at seizing the comic possibilities of trying to get through a family dinner or math class when the voice of a teenage boy is talking away inside the protagonist's head.
Character Development: Protagonist Mahlorie is an appealingly independent spirit with strong opinions and the good sense to know that she doesn't actually need a makeover. Her best friend Shai and creepy cousin Phillip both are well-defined presences, and Mahlorie's mother, a romance novelist, is an amusing (though static) creation. The novel's mystery structure, unfortunately, keeps Dyson from fully flowering as a character, as the plot's integrity depends upon him not revealing too much about himself to the young woman whose brain his mind has touched.
Blurb: Jaimie Engle's Metal Mouth is a wry and wise romantic heartbreaker touched with mystery, lightning, and shivery hints of the supernatural.
Date Submitted: May 17, 2020
A high schooler struck by lightning suddenly begins hearing--and conversing with--a boy's voice inside her head in this YA fantasy.
Fifteen-year-old Floridian Mahlorie Moore is often alone, not always by choice. Her mom, Victoria M. Reddish, a famous author of romance novels, is typically away for book signings. Her magician dad, Bob, is usually performing on cruise ships. Though socializing is low on Mahlorie's list, she reluctantly heads to a party one weekend that her best friend, Shai Dwenger, suggests. But after an intoxicated boy's unwanted advances, Mahlorie leaves in the midst of a raging storm. She's hit by lightning, which she miraculously survives. Only now she hears a male voice in her head, and it's quickly apparent he can hear her, too. It takes some getting used to, but the boy is considerate and sometimes helpful, as when he provides the solution to a math problem in Mahlorie's class. She learns she's speaking with 17-year-old Dyson Hertz, who becomes a friendly voice and, eventually, something much more. When his voice evidently disappears, Mahlorie wonders if he's simply no longer talking to her. So she searches for him to get answers and maybe see the boy she loves in the flesh. Mahlorie, who narrates her story, is a bright but convincingly flawed protagonist. For example, she seemingly has a fear of abandonment while simultaneously isolating herself. But she tends to be frank, and if a boy invades her personal space, she doesn't hesitate to let him know. Engle's first-rate cast of characters includes sometimes-selfish but consistently loyal Shai and Mahlorie's creepy older cousin, Philip. Her parents are likewise memorable, although their jobs are excessively conspicuous metaphors (for instance, Victoria will "plot" Mahlorie like one of her characters; control in life is merely an illusion). Nevertheless, the author recounts familiar situations in lyrical fashion, from an awkward silence ("Quiet roars between us") to a trek in the dark woods ("Night stretches through the crunch of leaves and sticks that snap beneath my feet").
A tale presents troubled adolescence and romance through the eyes of a remarkable teen protagonist.