The Weight of Silence

The Weight of Silence

by Heather Gudenkauf


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When two little girls disappear in the night, the truth about what happened lies in the words they cannot speak.

As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families wake to find their little girls have gone missing. There’s seven-year-old Calli Clark, a sweet, gentle dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by a tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler, and Petra Gregory, Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice.

Desperate to find their children, Calli’s mother, Antonia, and Petra’s father, Martin, are forced to confront dark truths about the role each of them may have inadvertently played in the girls’ disappearance. Inextricably tied together, these two families are trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets. Will they find their daughters before it’s too late?

Heather Gudenkauf’s bestselling and groundbreaking debut is a gripping novel packed with dark secrets and deep emotion. This chilling tale of two families’ desperate search will linger long after the final page is turned.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780778327400
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 07/28/2009
Edition description: Original
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 78,027
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Heather Gudenkauf is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and Not a Sound. Heather lives in Iowa with her family.

Read an Excerpt


Calli stirred in her bed. The heat of a steamy, Iowa August morning lay thick in her room, hanging sodden and heavy about her. She had kicked offthe white chenille bedspread and sheets hours earlier, her pink cotton nightgown now bunched up around her waist. No breeze was blowing through her open, screened window. The moon hung low and its milky light lay supine on her floor, a dim, inadequate lantern. She awoke, vaguely aware of movement downstairs below her. Her father preparing to go fishing. Calli heard his solid, certain steps, so different from her mother's quick, light tread, and Ben's hesitant stride. She sat up among the puddle of bedclothes and stuffed animals, her bladder uncomfortably full, and squeezed her legs together, trying to will the urge to use the bathroom to retreat. Her home had only one bathroom, a pink-tiled room nearly half-filled with the scratched-up white claw-foot bathtub. Calli did not want to creep down the creaky steps, past the kitchen where her father was sure to be drinking his bitter-smelling coffee and putting his tackle box in order. The pressure on her bladder increased and Calli shifted her weight, trying to think of other things. She spotted her stack of supplies for the coming second-grade school year: brightly colored pencils, still long and flat-tipped; slim, crisp-edged folders; smooth rubber-scented pink erasers; a sixty-four-count box of crayons (the supply list called for a twenty-four count box, but Mom knew that this just would not do); and four spiral-bound notebooks, each a different color.

School had always been a mixture of pleasure and pain for Calli. She loved the smell of school, the dusty smell of old books and chalk. She loved the crunch of fall leaves beneath her new shoes as she walked to the bus stop, and she loved her teachers, every single one. But Calli knew that adults would gather in school conference rooms to discuss her: principal, psychologists, speech and language clinicians, special education and regular education teachers, behavior disorder teachers, school counselors, social workers. Why won't Calli speak? Calli knew there were many phrases used to try to describe her—mentally challenged, autistic, on the spectrum, oppositional defiant, a selective mute. She was, in fact, quite bright. She could read and understand books several grade levels above her own.

In kindergarten, Miss Monroe, her energetic, first-year teacher whose straight brown hair and booming bass voice belied her pretty sorority girl looks, thought that Calli was just shy. Calli's name didn't come up to the Solution-Focus Education Team until December of Calli's kindergarten year. And that didn't occur until the school nurse, Mrs. White, after handing Calli a clean pair of socks, underwear and sweatpants for the second time in one week, discovered an unsettling pattern in Calli's visits to the health office.

"Didn't you tell anyone you needed to use the restroom, Calli?" Mrs. White asked in her low, kind voice.

No response, just Calli's usual wide-eyed, flat expression gazing back at her.

"Go on into the restroom and change your clothes, Calli," the nurse instructed. "Make sure to wash yourself the best that you can." Flipping through her meticulous log documenting the date and time of each child's visit to the health office, the ailment noted in her small, tight script—sore throats, bellyaches, scratches, bee stings. Calli's name was notated nine times since August 29, the first day of school. Next to each entry the initials UA—for Urinary Accident. Mrs. White turned to Miss Monroe, who had escorted Calli to the office.

"Michelle, this is Calli's ninth bathroom accident this school year." Mrs. White paused, allowing Miss Monroe to respond. Silence. "Does she go when the other kids do?"

"I don't know," Miss Monroe replied, her voice tumbling under the bathroom door to where Calli was stepping out of her soiled clothing. "I'm not sure. She gets plenty of chances to go…and she can always ask"

"Well, I'm going to call her mom and recommend that she take Calli to the doctor, see if all this isn't just a bladder infection or something else," Mrs. White responded in her cool, efficient manner that few questioned. "Meanwhile, let her use the restroom whenever she wants, send her in anyway, even if she doesn't need to."

"Okay, but she can always ask." Miss Monroe turned and retreated.

Calli silently stepped from the office restroom garbed in a dry pair of pink sweatpants that pooled around her feet and sagged at her rear. In one hand she held a plastic grocery sack that contained her soaked Strawberry Shortcake underwear, jeans, socks andpink-and-white tennis shoes. The indexfinger ofher other hand absently twirled her chestnut-colored hair.

Mrs. White bent down to Calli's eye level. "Do you have gym shoes to put on, Calli?"

Calli looked down at her toes, now clad in dingy, office-issued athletic socks so worn she could see the peachy flesh of her big toe and the Vamp Red nail polish her mother had dabbed on each pearly toenail the night before.

"Calli," Mrs. White repeated, "do you have gym shoes to put on?"

Calli regarded Mrs. White, pursed her thin lips together and nodded her head.

"Okay, Calli," Mrs. White's voice took on a tender tone. "Go put on your shoes and put the bag in your book bag. I'm going to call your mother. Now, you're not in trouble. I see you've had several accidents this year. I just want your mom to be aware, okay?"

Mrs. White carefully searched Calli's winter-kissed face. Calli's attention was then drawn to the vision eye chart and its ever-shrinking letters on the wall of the institutional-white health office.

After the Solution-Focus Team of educators met and tested Calli and reviewed the data, there appeared to be nothing physically wrong with her. Options were discussed and debated, and after several weeks it was decided to teach her the American Sign Language sign for bathroom and other key words, have her meet weekly with the school counselor, and patiently wait for Calli to speak. They continued to wait.

Calli climbed out of bed, carefully picked up each of her new school supplies and laid out the items on her small pine desk as she planned to in her new desk in her classroom on the first day of second grade. Big things on the bottom, small things on top, pencils and pens stowed neatly away in her new green pencil case.

The need to urinate became an ache, and she considered relieving herself in her white plastic trash can beside her desk, but knew she would not be able to clean it without her mother or Ben noticing. If her mother found a pool of pee in her wastebasket, Calli knew she would fret endlessly as to what was going on inside her head. Neverending yes-no questions would follow. Was someone in the bathroom and you couldn't wait? Were you playing a game with Petra? Are you mad at me, Calli? She also considered climbing out her second-story window down the trellis, now tangled with white moonflowers as big as her hand. She discounted this idea, as well. She wasn't sure how to remove the screen, and if her mother caught her midclimb she would be of a mind to nail Calli's window shut and Calli loved having her window open at night. On rainy evenings Calli would press her nose to the screen, feel the bounce of raindrops against her cheeks, and smell the dusty sunburned grass as it swallowed the newly fallen rain. Calli did not want her mother to worry more than she did not want to have her father's attention drawn to her as she made her way down the stairs to use the bathroom.

Calli slowly opened her bedroom door and peeked around the door. She stepped cautiously out of her room and into the short hallway where it was darker, the air staler and weightier. Directly across from Calli's room was Ben's room, a twin of her own, whose window faced the backyard and Willow Creek Woods. Ben's door was shut, as was her parents' bedroom door. Calli paused at the top ofthe steps, straining to hear her father's movements. Silence. Maybe he had left for his fishing trip already. Calli was hopeful. Her father was leaving with his friend Roger to go fishing at the far eastern edge ofthe county, along the Mississippi River, some eighty miles away. Roger was picking him up that morning and they would be gone for three days. Calli felt a twinge ofguilt in wishing her father away, but life was so much more peaceful with just the three of them.

Each morning that he was sitting in the kitchen brought a different man to them. Some days he was happy, and he would set her on his lap and rub his scratchy red whiskers on her cheek to make her smile. He would kiss Mom and hand her a cup of coffee and he would invite Ben to go into town with him. On these days her daddy would talk in endless streams, his voice light and full of something close to tenderness. Some days he would be at the scarred kitchen table with his forehead in his hands, empty beer cans tossed carelessly in the sink and on the brown-speckled laminate countertops. On these days Calli would tiptoe through the kitchen and quietly close the screen door behind her and then dash into the Willow Creek Woods to play along the creek bed or on the limbs of fallen trees. Periodically, Calli would return to the edge of their meadow to see if her father's truck had gone. If it was missing, Calli would return home where the beer cans had been removed and the yeasty, sweaty smell of her father's binge had been scrubbed away. If the truck remained, Calli would retreat to the woods until hunger or the day's heat forced her home.

More silence. Encouraged that he was gone, Calli descended the stairs, carefully stepping over the fourth step that creaked. The bulb from above the kitchen stove cast a ghostly light that spilled onto the bottom of the stairs. She just needed to take two large steps past the kitchen entry and she would be at the bathroom. Calli, at the bottom step, her toes curled over the edge, squeezed the hardwood tightly, pulled her nightgown to above her knees to make possible a bigger step. One step, a furtive glance into the kitchen. No one there. Another step, past the kitchen, her hand on the cool metal doorknob of the bathroom, twisting.

"Calli!" a gruff whisper called out. Callie stilled. "Calli! Come out here!"

Calli's hand dropped from the doorknob and she turned to follow the low sound of her father's voice. The kitchen was empty, but the screen door was open, and she saw the outline of his wide shoulders in the dim early morning. He was sitting on the low concrete step outside, a fog of cigarette smoke and hot coffee intermingling and rising above his head.

"Come out here, Calli-girl. What'cha doing up so early?" he asked, not unkindly. Calli pushed open the screen door, careful not to run the door into his back; she squeezed through the opening and stood next to her father.

"Why ya up, Calli, bad dream? " Griff looked up at her from where he was sitting, a look of genuine concern on his face.

She shook her head no and made the sign for bathroom, the need for which had momentarily fled.

"What's that? Can't hear ya." He laughed. "Speak a little louder. Oh, yeah, you don't talk." And at that moment his face shifted into a sneer. "You gotta use the sign language." He abruptly stood and twisted his hands and arms in a grotesque mockery of Calli. "Can't talk like a normal kid, got be all dumb like some kind of retard!" Griff's voice was rising.

Calli's eyes slid to the ground where a dozen or so crushed beer cans littered the ground and the need to pee returned full force. She glanced up to her mother's bedroom window; the curtains still, no comforting face looked down on her.

"Can't talk, huh? Bullshit! You talked before. You used to say, 'Daddy, Daddy,' 'specially when you wanted something. Now I got a stupid retard for a daughter. Probably you're not even mine. You got that deputy sheriff's eyes." He bent down, his gray-green eyes peered into hers and she squeezed them tightly shut.

In the distance she heard tires on gravel, the sharp crunch and pop of someone approaching. Roger. Calli opened her eyes as Roger's four-wheel-drive truck came down the lane and pulled up next to them.

"Hey, there. Mornin', you two. How are you doing, Miss Calli?" Roger tipped his chin to Calli, not really looking at her, not expecting a response. "Ready to go fishing, Griff?"

Roger Hogan was Griff's best friend from high school. He was short and wide, his great stomach spilling over his pants. A foreman at the local meat packing plant, he begged Griff every time he came home from the pipeline to stay home for good. He could get Griff in at the factory, too. "It'd be just like old times," he'd add.

"Morning, Rog," Griff remarked, his voice cheerful, his eyes mean slits. "I'm goin' to have you drive on ahead without me, Roger. Calli had a bad dream. I'm just going to sit here with her awhile until she feels better, make sure she gets off to sleep again."

"Aw, Griff," whined Roger. "Can't her mother do that? We've been planning this for months."

"No, no. A girl needs her daddy, don't she, Calli? A daddy she can rely on to help her through those tough times. Her daddy should be there for her, don't you think, Rog? So Calli's gonna spend some time with her good ol' daddy, whether she wants to or not. But you want to, don't you, Calli?"

Calli's stomach wrenched tighter with each of her father's utterances of the word daddy. She longed to run into the house and wake up her mother, but while Griff spewed hate from his mouth toward Calli when he'd been drinking, he'd never actually really hurt her. Ben, yes. Mom, yes. Not Calli.

"I'll just throw my stuff in your truck, Rog, and meet up with you at the cabin this afternoon. There'll be plenty of good fishing tonight, and I'll pick up some more beer for us on the way." Griff picked up his green duffel and tossed it into the back of the truck. More carefully he laid his fishing gear, poles and tackle into the bed of the truck. "I'll see ya soon, Roger."

"Okay, I'll see you later then. You sure you can find the way?"

"Yeah, yeah, don't worry. I'll be there. You can get a head start on catching those fish. You're gonna need it, 'cause I'm going to whip your butt!"

"We'll just see about that! " Roger guffawed and squealed away.

Griff made his way back to where Calli was standing, her arms wrapped around herself despite the heat.

"Now how about a little bit of daddy time, Calli? The deputy sheriff don't live too far from here, now, does he? Just through the woods there, huh?" Her father grabbed her by the arm and her bladder released, sending a steady stream of urine down her leg as he pulled her toward the woods.

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Weight of Silence 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 367 reviews.
Nora920 More than 1 year ago
Very rarely do you find a book so good that you stay up half the night reading it, then feel sad on the last page, because it is over. This book had me wrapped up in the story from the very beginning. I cannot wait to read Ms. Gudenkauf's next book!
Danielle Waldron More than 1 year ago
Read over the summer in only two days. It is told from a really unique perspective. Heartbreaking and a story you will not soon forget.
NancyT More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent story. I found it very hard to put this book down. It is told from several views of several different people, but it was not hard at all to follow. I know I will read this one again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed every page. Didnt want to put it down....sad its over
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
highly recommend.....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"The Weight of Silence" has been one of the summer bestsellers this year, and for good reason. I found myself very quickly becoming lost in Gudenkauf's debut novel. At times absolutely heartbreaking, it will grab you from the beginning and not let go until Calli's epilogue. The story begins one early morning as Calli, a first grader, is dragged into the woods by her alcoholic father. Calli is a selective mute, and the backstory about how she became that way is intriguing. As the people who love her try to find out where she has gone, the story intertwines with another disappearance, Calli's best friend, Petra. Petra has always been there for Calli, being her "voice". When a substitute teacher punishes Petra for always talking for her friend, Petra saves the day. Calli's mother, Antonia, tells her that one day in the future, she may have help Petra in the same way. This day comes sooner than she thinks when Petra is in serious trouble. "The Weight of Silence" speaks from different viewpoints, all in the first person, except for one, Calli. The puzzle pieces keep piling up, until the reader finally puts them together. What happened to Calli that she stopped talking? What happened to Calli and Petra in the woods? The ending is bittersweet, yet heartbreaking. MY RATING - 5 To see my rating scale and other reviews, please check out my website:
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With characters so deep you cannot help but be transported into their lives I was hooked from page one. Recognizing that the greatest mysteries we may never solve come from within the close circle of home speaks a language we can all understand. This was impossible to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I have read from this author but will be looking for more to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book ties it all together by the end but it has a bittersweet ending. I was so caught up in this and hated to see it end. Highly recomend. Reminiscent of !Jodi Piccout. Will read more of her books!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
weak ending, but overall worth the buy.
abutler_14 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was one of the quickest paced books I have read in a long time. Gudenkauf kept the story moving. I enjoyed her style of writing and how connected she made feel to the characters.
joannemepham29 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book, and it's style of being told through many different perspectives. I would have liked more of a conclusion in the end of some of the story lines, but otherwise I loved this book. I was charmed by Callie, and her brother, mother and Petra, and some of the other characters as well. I also as intrigued about one the relationships in the story and how that would end up. Overall, great story with a unique way of being told, and great characters.
Quiltinfun06 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As we know families are destroyed by alcohol and all of its affects. The Weight of Silence is a story of one family and the affect that alcohol plays in their lives. Calli a 7 year old girl has been silenced for four years by an event that she witnessed. Her older brother Ben has been touched by this event also as he struggles to care for his sister Calli. Antonia, their mom, battles with her role as mother, wife and friend not with any great success. The story unfolds with Calli being removed from her home at 4:30 in the morning by a very drunk, revengeful father. At the same time, her fiend Petra also leaves her home. Both head for the nearby woods where their lives will be forever changed.This is a well written novel moving from one character to the next. I quickly became invested in the lives of the characters and found myself becoming quit anxious as events unfolded. I recommend this novel in particular as a beach read. It moves very quickly with suspense and drama throughout.
SugarCreekRanch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Weight of Silence is a gripping read. Seven year old Calli (mute since a trauma several years ago) and her friend Petra are missing -- and possibly the victims of foul play. This novel is told in multiple perspectives, and both present and past (memories). The switching between perspectives and time is done smoothly, so it doesn¿t feel like jumping around. But it provides a wonderful mechanism for exploring different aspects of the situation. I particularly enjoyed the perspectives of Calli and of her older brother.This was a fast read for me. It¿s not great literature, but it¿s very absorbing. Highly recommended.
goose114 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of two missing seven-year-old girls. The entire story takes place during one day and through the points-of-view of numerous characters. The main character Calli is one of the little girls missing and has not spoken in four years and no one knows why. As the mystery begins to unfold the past of the characters is told as flashbacks. The characters were interesting and the scenarios that took place were exciting. There were times when I could not put this book down. For me the most interesting part of the book was not the missing girls per se but on Calli¿s selective mutism. The way that both mysteries were interwoven was excellent and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.
BeckyJG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Weight of Silence is a first novel that reads like a first novel. Although the premise of the story is an interesting one--two little girls go into the woods one morning and only one comes out...and she can't talk--the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The dialog is clunky and awkward, and the voices of the alternating narratives are not distinct enough from one another. Heather Gudenkauf shows promise, but needs practice and judicious editing before she'll be there as a writer.
sapphire--stars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book at a Walmart while taking an anniversary trip with my boyfriend. I'm not really sure what motivated me to read it so quickly. It read like a Jodi Picoult novel, although not quite as good. The journey was fun and I'm glad I read/own it. But I can't bring myself to give it four stars because it isn't super exceptional in my opinion. While it's a fun ride, it begins to pan out towards then end and you can see the ending and epilogue almost laid out on a platter.
Cajunbooklady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I REALLY enjoyed this one! I enjoyed Heather's writing style and the way that she pulled this story together.The book is told from a different point of view in each chapter which kept it interesting. Each character really had their own "voice" and you were able to see the story from each perspective.The storyline was sad and touching but at the same time showed what people can overcome. It also had some unexpected plot twists which really shocked me. I also found it to be a quick read. I liked it and hope you'll check it out.
QueenAlyss on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a fantastic novel! It is incredibly well written, realistic, and heart wrenching. Each sentence is filled with passion so that as you read, you find yourself lurching with the emotions of the individual whose psyche you currently watch. My only qualm was that Gudenkauf sometimes transitioned between point of views too often, which took out some of the intensity of a moment
GrytaJME on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was supposed to be suspenseful, yet the secrets were pretty easy to guess and that kind of ruined the suspense. Not bad, but not fantastic.Love the cover, though.
DaMa1211 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really liked who the chapters were narrated by different characters. It kept me interested to see what the characters were going to say since they were so different. I was shocked by the ending, but i still loved it.
BookDivasReads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent story presented in the words and thoughts (presenting their backstories) of multiple characters in the book. Well-written and thought provoking about how simple words can devastate in the right (or perhaps wrong) circumstances at the right moment especially when delivered to children.
TFS93 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This one was hard to read. You just wanted to reach in and slap the dad, and the mom too. The author certainly had my emotions at the surface. It would have been nice to know what happened to the other girl from their town, but it wasn't central to the story so I guess it wasn't necessary.
bdouglas97 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf first and enjoyed it enough to read this previously published book. I enjoyed it just as much as These Things Hidden. Both novels have an element of mystery and a personal stories that interconnect that they are page turners when you get into the meat of them. The fact that she never tells us why Callie cannot talk until the end makes you try and guess throughout the book. I loved the chapter when Callie finally describes what it is like after she utters that first word after 4 years.
CelticLibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
3.0 out of 5 stars Two little girls go missing in the night..., April 29, 2011I was expecting this to be a terrific read based on recommendations from several book lovers I know and admire. Unfortunately, in many ways, the novel fell short of my expectations and I turned the last page feeling let down and disappointed. I do tend to end up judging my books by the ending -- and this was part of the reason that I rated it only as 3 stars which means "it's OK" to me.The story premise -- two little 7 year-old girls, Calli and Petra, vanish from their separate homes in the middle of a hot Iowa night. They live in an isolated area that is surrounded by woods and it is there that much of the main story action is focused. Calli Clark is a selective mute -- she hasn't spoken a word since a tragedy she witnessed at age 4. Her best friend, Petra Gregory, is her voice and has protected Callie since they met.One morning, Calli's drunken brute of a father, Griff, drags her into the woods. Around the same time, for reasons not given to the reader, Petra leaves her house as well. When the girls are discovered missing, Deputy Sheriff Loras Louis launches a search for the girls. The deputy also happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Calli's mother, Antonia, and though he's married, he is of course still in love with her. The whole love triangle aspect of this book was completely predictable and left a negative impression on me and decreased my appreciation of the novel.The drama surrounding the disappearance and the reactions of the parents of the girls and Calli's brother Ben provided the best suspense of the book. The story was told, however, in different points of view and the characters never seemed to find their own individual voice so I didn't end up really connecting with any of them.The resolution falls flat and the epilogue, though it tied up all the loose ends, did not satisfy. I don't know if I will read this author's next book or not.