Book review: The Tongue She Speaks

Sammi Minion reviews The Tongue She Speaks, a new novel by Scottish author and journalist Emma Grae, from Glasgow.

Emma Grae’s new novel The Tongue She Speaks makes for a captivating read. From the frame of a seemingly typical teenage thriller lies a far more complex and compelling story, brought to life by an engrossing plot device. 

As both dialogue and narrative are dominated not by conventional English but instead Scots tongue, part of Grae’s mission to find success as a writer without conforming to standard English. 

Her central character, Cathy O’Kelly, a 15-year-old growing up in early 2000s Lanarkshire, is herself a budding writer as well as an emo and all-round teenage rebel. Cathy too is determined not to abandon the language in which she is most comfortable, her Scottish tongue, in order to achieve that dream.

Grae cleverly places the battle against written English at the centre of Cathy’s teenage rebellion so that it sits neatly next to her other more typical struggles, with boys, bullies and teachers. This encourages readers to reassess their own relationship with what is increasingly becoming a forgotten written language as Cathy reminds us ‘It cannae be that bad, or else surely the tongue would o died oot?’ 

The landscape in which the novel is written is innovative, clearly motivated by a writer who is interested in the subject of writing, even the playground bully Mark, is himself a poet. He attacks Cathy most for her devotion to writing in the Scots tongue, the peer pressure she faces is not always aimed toward consumption but rather conformity. 

Emma Grae is a successful journalist as well as author and this latest novel intriguingly adds her feelings on a subject she cares deeply about to a familiar genre.

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