No Talking by Andrew Clements is a novel about a fifth-grade class in which the boys and girls make a pact not to talk for two days.
At the beginning of the story, Dave Packer is trying to go a whole day without speaking. Last weekend, while preparing for a report about India, Dave read that Mahatma Ghandi used to spend one day silent every week because he “believed this was a way to bring order to his mind.” This idea intrigues Dave, who is normally a loudmouth, so he has decided to try it for himself.
So far it has been four hours, and Dave has not said a word. Now, however, he has a problem. He and his study partner, Lynsey Burgess, are supposed to deliver a report orally in front of the class. Dave fakes a violent coughing fit until the teacher, thinking he is nervous, takes pity on him and says he can deliver his report another day.
Dave makes it all the way to lunch, where he listens instead of talking like he usually does. The fifth graders at his school are extremely divided between boys and girls, like kindergarteners who are still obsessed with cooties. Dave sits at a table with only boys, but he overhears Lynsey, at the girl’s table, babbling about shopping and buying a sweater. Dave gets so annoyed at her longwinded story that he whirls around and shouts that Lynsey’s head would explode if she had to be silent for five minutes.
Lynsey is not the sort of person to let an insult go. She fights back, saying that there is nothing wrong with talking, and that Dave himself babbles on and on about useless topics all the time. Dave wants to make an impressive ending to this conversation, so he blurts out, “And anyway, boys never talk as much as girls do, ever!” Not only is this not true, but it makes Lynsey even more angry. She demands that Dave take it back. When he refuses, they challenge each other to a contest.
It does not take long for Lynsey and Dave to work out the rules for their game. For two days, from lunchtime on Tuesday until lunchtime on Thursday, all of the fifth graders will try to be silent. They are allowed to say up to three words to teachers but only if the teacher calls on them directly. At home at night, they are not allowed to talk at all. Dave and Lynsey will keep a tally of all the words spoken illegally by the other side, and whichever side says more words loses. Both kids spend the rest of lunch convincing their classmates to join the competition.
Dave’s class is not only unique in its level of conflict between boys and girls; it is also, under normal circumstances, a particularly loud group. They are mostly good kids who want to show respect for their teachers, but they have trouble quieting down even when they are ordered to do so directly. The principal, Mrs. Hiatt, patrols the lunchroom every day with a bullhorn, occasionally bellowing “STUDENTS! YOU ARE TALKING TOO LOUD!” This does not make much of a difference in the noise levels. The teachers at Laketon Elementary have a nickname for Dave’s class: “the Unshushables.”
The first day of the no-talking challenge begins during fifth-grade lunch. As always, Mrs. Hiatt marches into the cafeteria with her bullhorn, but she does not need it. The room is so silent that Mrs. Hiatt wonders at first if she is dreaming. She asks a student, Sheila, if everything is all right. Sheila looks nervous, but she answers in three words: “Fine, thank you.” Mrs. Hiatt asks all the kids if they are enjoying their lunch, and they all answer in three words: “Yes, Mrs. Hiatt.” When she congratulates them on being so silent, they all giggle and look at Dave and Lynsey. Mrs. Hiatt sees this and pinpoints those two as the ringleaders, but for now she does not try to stop them.
Dave finds the silence exciting, but when he sees Mrs. Hiatt watching him at the end of the first lunch period, he realizes it may be dangerous, too. During lunch and recess, a couple of boys and a couple of girls talk by mistake, usually in bursts of emotion. However, as time passes, the group gets louder, not quieter. They realize that they can make noise as long as they do not make words. The science teacher, Mrs. Marlow, is watching recess, and she finds it quite interesting. The custodian declares it “practically a miracle.”
None of the teachers know exactly what is going on with the kids, and they react in varying ways. Mrs. Marlow gathers evidence, as if the kids were in a scientific experiment, to try to figure out what is happening. She is annoyed with their three-word answers in class, but it also pleases her not to have to fight...
(The entire section is 1922 words.)