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The Whispers by Ashley Audrain
Contemporary fiction

The Whispers

by Ashley Audrain

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Quick take

A suburban neighborhood devolves into chaos (and recriminations) when a boy mysteriously falls out his bedroom window.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FemaleFriendship

    Female friendships

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SuburbanDrama

    Suburban drama

Synopsis

The Loverlys sit by the hospital bed of their young son who is in a coma after falling from his bedroom window in the middle of the night; his mother, Whitney, will not speak to anyone. Back home, their friends and neighbors are left in shock, each confronting their own role in the events that led up to what happened that terrible night: the warm, altruistic Parks who are the Loverlys’ best friends; the young, ambitious Goldsmiths who are struggling to start a family of their own; and the quiet, elderly Portuguese couple who care for their adult son with a developmental disability, and who pass the long days on the front porch, watching their neighbors go about their busy lives.

The story spins out over the course of one week, in the alternating voices of the women in each family as they are forced to face the secrets within the walls of their own homes, and the uncomfortable truths that connect them all to one another.

Set against the heart wrenching drama of what will happen to Xavier, who hangs between death and life, or a life changed forever, The Whispers is a novel about what happens when we put our needs ahead of our children’s. Exploring the quiet sacrifices of motherhood, the intuitions that we silence, the complexities of our closest friendships, and the danger of envy, this is a novel about the reverberations of life’s most difficult decisions.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes depicting a miscarriage and mentions of child abuse.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Whispers.
The Whispers

He lifts two fingers to his nose and smells the child’s mother as his eyes grow wide in the dark of his kitchen. The clock on the oven reads 11:56 p.m. His chest. Everything feels tight. Is he having a heart attack? Is this how a heart attack feels? He must move. He paces the white-oak hardwood and touches things, the lever on the toaster; the stainless-steel handle of the fridge; the softening, fragrant bananas in the fruit bowl. He is looking for familiarity to ground him. To bring him back.

A shower. He should shower. He scales the stairs like a toddler.

He refuses to look at himself in the bathroom mirror.

His skin stings. He scrubs.

He thinks he hears sirens. Are those sirens?

He wrenches the shower handle and listens. Nothing.

Bed, he should be in bed. That’s where he would be if nothing had happened. If this was just another Wednesday night in June. He dries himself and places the towel on the door’s hook where it always hangs. He fiddles with the way the white terry cloth falls, perfecting the ripple in the fabric like he’s staging a department store display, his hands twitching with an unfamiliar fear.

His phone. He creeps through the dark house looking for where he’s put it—the hallway bench, the kitchen counter, the table near the foot of the stairs. His coat pocket, that’s where it is, on the floor at the back door, where he’d dropped it when he came into the house. He brings the phone upstairs, his legs still feeble, and stops outside their bedroom door.

He can’t be in there.

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Why I love it

As a product of the suburbs, I am obsessed with “neighborhood novels.” I love everything from the petty bus stop drama to the illicit affairs between pick-up and drop-off—all events that my small town lacked, but that I would secretly imagine happening. The Whispers fits perfectly into this genre, then elevates it with incredibly compelling, well-drawn characters and real-life stakes.

The Whispers begins with a fall. Young Xavier has tumbled out of his bedroom window with seemingly no witnesses, leaving him in a coma with no clear road to recovery. His mother has been recently ostracized from their small community, and this incident has only served to further widen the berth between her and the rest of the neighborhood. Over the course of the novel, we hear from these other locals—a young couple struggling to conceive, an older woman subjected to unimaginable things behind closed doors, mothers straining to do what is good and right. All the while, the dark undercurrent of Xavier’s condition serves as a driving pulse.

If you love a novel with multiple protagonists, let me oh-so-emphatically place this book in your hands. These women are complex—jealous, insecure, well-intentioned in equal measure. Through these different perspectives, Audrain does a brilliant job of exploring the gulf between the version of ourselves we project out into the world and who we truly perceive ourselves to be. The Whispers gives the reader permission to relish this gray area at the same time that it requests our empathy, and for that, I came out of this book feeling just that little bit more human.

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Member ratings (5,034)

  • Carly H.

    Santa Monica, CA

    Ashley, you’re a magician! I thought you couldn’t top The Push, but I read this in one day. Your aren’t afraid to explore the harsh realities of motherhood—you’re bold and daring and I LOVE IT 🙌🏼

  • Heather M.

    Marblehead, MA

    Some characters I really didn’t care for…. But that’s what made it such a good book. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see how it all came together and what really happened. Totally recommend!

  • Katie S.

    Renton, WA

    I loved Ashley Audrain's first novel, "The Push" so I snagged this immediately. I was fully invested in these characters lives. It goes deeeep and will leave you hanging until the very end. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

  • Tiffany S.

    Gorham, ME

    You’ll either love it or hate it. There’s no in between with Audrain’s writing. Be prepared to hate and question all of the characters during this wild ride set in a neighborhood of horrible people.

  • Lindsay G.

    Bremerton, WA

    Snagged this because I loved her first book. Not as dark as The Push but still kind of messed up (in a good way) but I didn’t care for the ending. Left me wanting more and didn’t wrap up loose ends

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