Retro Read #1: People Might Hear You

 People Might Hear You by Robin Klein


I became obsessed with this novel when I first discovered it as a young teen and was shocked to see it was no longer in publication! At the risk of ruining some nostalgia from childhood I sought out a second hand copy to see if it lived up to my memories now that I am an adult.

After her guardian aunt marries the forbidding Mr Tyrell, twelve-year-old Frances is introduced to the mysterious temple and its strange fanatical beliefs. Mr Tyrell makes it impossible for his family to have contact with the outside world and Frances’ new stepsisters keep imploring her to remain quiet at all times otherwise ‘people might hear you’.

First Impressions: Although I have always remembered the ending, I was amazed at how much of the story I remember. I’m not just talking general plot either but many specific incidents and descriptions such as mandatory clothing and schooling. The only part I did not recall for some reason was the brief romantic storyline. From the first page I was also amazed at how old fashioned the writing sounded and how challenging some of the vocabulary is compared to most of the current YA selections I come across. Did I really not notice this as a teenager? Then again, it is 30 years old.

Highlights: I may be biased, but there are no lowlights in this novel! The isolated and odd lifestyle forced upon Frances and her imprisonment in Mr Tyrell’s house remain as absorbing as I remember. Robin Klein is also brilliant at capturing Frances’ childish innocence when faced with the different restrictions and rules placed on her life. If the internet existed when I first read this novel I’m sure I would have spent much time online reading news stories about The Family, the cult that inspired this book. I just thought it all came from Klein’s imagination!

If I was an editor: I would insist that this book be republished and stocked in all school libraries! I hate the idea of other children missing out on this fascinating novel. Obviously the cover art needs a rethink…

Overall: I can see how this story completely captivated me twenty years ago. Despite downsizing to be a Kindle-only reader I will be holding on to my tattered old copy in case in the future all copies disappear through natural attrition and I no longer have the option to read it again.

People Might Hear You: 5 stars


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7 thoughts on “Retro Read #1: People Might Hear You

  1. Thank you for linking to my post. I enjoyed your review and it brought back more memories of the book for me. Like you, this is one of the stories I read as a child that left a lasting impression. I know I read other Robin Klein books, but I can’t remember them in the same way I remember People Might Hear You. Interestingly, I found it in stock on, with new cover art!

    Your comment about the challenging vocabulary and old fashioned writing is interesting. I haven’t re-read the book, or much current YA as I focus more on junior fiction. As an aspiring writer, I find capturing the tone of youth today is one of the greatest challenges in my writing.

    • I am very glad to meet another fan of this novel 🙂 I have had the same experience with Robin Klein books. I read most of them when younger but the others – including Came Back to Show You I Can Fly which was the novel everyone was talking about – sort of blurred away in my memory soon after finishing.
      Thanks for link to the Penguin site. I didn’t think to look there! I will still keep my tattered old copy as it has a well loved feel about it. The Penguin cover is now 11 years old so I wonder what they would do with the cover art today?
      Reading People Might Hear You wasn’t quite like reading an 18th century classic with regards to language and style but as I mentioned in my post, when compared to the conversational tone in so many modern YA novels it does sound strikingly different.
      My plan is to ‘Retro Read’ a few more stand out books from my school years this year.

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  3. I was just thinking of this novel the other day. I had an urge to get home and look it up so I might be able to get a copy and re-read it. Like you – I wondered if the book would live up to the nostalgia of my childhood memories. Your note about the language has spurred me on even more to re-read it when I can get a copy delivered.

    I can’t put my finger on what it was exactly that I loved about this book when I was younger. I think I just really became absorbed in the storyline because it was darker than the normal YA fiction on the bookshelves back then. The escapism that the storyline gave was excellent. I hope to give it to my children one day to enjoy all over.

    • I have been really surprised at how many people read this review! I thought I was alone in loving this novel but I can assure you there is a big People Might Hear You fan club out there 🙂
      I think you’re right about it being darker than most other novels at the time. I also remember desperately wanting a sequel; how can it end like that!
      As it is set in such a strict house, perhaps it hasn’t dated too much for younger readers as technology is forbidden, save the one TV which is rarely used.

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