Summary

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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...

(This entire section contains 1922 words.)

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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 against the usual noisiness. Mrs. Akers, the music teacher, gets upset when the kids will not sing their songs, but eventually she allows them to hum instead. Mrs. Hensley, the gym teacher, loves how easy the kids are to manage when they do not talk. Happiest of all is Mr. Burton, the language arts teacher, who quickly figures out the three-word rule—but not why it is in place—and makes the kids tell a story in three-word sentences. In the next period, he makes the kids communicate only in writing. He finds both sessions thrilling because the kids are using language in such creative ways. He makes careful notes, hoping to turn the experience into a paper for a night course he is taking in human development.

Both Dave and Lynsey are in Mr. Burton’s final language arts class of the day, so they pass notes to each other. They taunt each other about the mistakes they have made that day, and eventually they decide to add a one-on-one competition to the group challenge. The person who talks more has to let the other draw a big L for loser on his or her forehead at the end of the competition.

At home that night, all the kids suffer some problems. Dave’s mom gets scared when she calls to him in the bathroom and gets no answer. Kyle refuses to say hii-yah in karate, and his teacher gets mad until a fourth grader explains that the fifth graders are not talking. Ellen briefly confuses her flute teacher, and Zeke gets a bad haircut because he cannot beg his mom to avoid the worst barber in town. Lynsey’s mom thinks Lynsey is angry until Lynsey figures out that a wave and a smile makes her mom feel better. Slowly, like Lynsey, all the kids find ways to get around talking, and life goes on.

That afternoon, Mrs. Hiatt calls a teacher’s meeting to discuss the fifth graders’ behavior. The teachers are divided on the issue, but most think that, on the balance, the silence is an improvement. Mrs. Hiatt thinks it over and decides to crack down on the kids’ game anyway. The next morning, she calls a special fifth-grade assembly. She brings Dave and Lynsey to the front of the room and makes them lead the Pledge of Allegiance. In an instant, and just for an instant, the two of them call a truce. The whole fifth grade joins in the pledge, reciting it so loudly the room shakes. Afterward, Mrs. Hiatt orders the kids to stop their game. When she presses, all the kids answer, “Yes, Mrs. Hiatt.”

Dave heads back to class feeling slightly relieved that he is allowed to talk again, but he does not say a word. Neither does anyone else. Nobody wants to end the challenge early in case the others are still playing. In math, Mrs. Escobar yells at the kids for sticking to three-word answers, but the class’s silence and attentiveness ends up giving her some good opportunities to teach. Other teachers adapt, too; they decide that fighting the kids is illogical and unlikely to have any positive result. Mr. Burton actively supports the kids’ competition, but he closes the door before class to make sure Mrs. Hiatt does not find this out. He makes the kids conduct debates in three-word exchanges. He gets so excited about the form that he starts taking notes in three-word chunks, and he even considers writing his whole paper in three-word sentences.

Mrs. Hiatt is away from the school most of the morning, so when she returns at lunchtime, she expects everything to be back to normal. When she enters the lunchroom and finds it silent again, she gets upset. She calls on Dave and shouts at him in front of the whole group. She demands that he talk. Dave resists until he gets so mad that he shouts right back. He insists that he does not have to talk during lunch, which is his free time anyway. He ends his speech with “You have the right to remain silent!” Mrs. Hiatt stalks out of the room, and the kids cheer.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Hiatt calls Dave to her office. When Dave enters, he says, “I’m sorry,” but she surprises him by saying that she is the one who should apologize. She points out that she yelled first and that she “set a terrible example.” She asks Dave to explain how the no-talking challenge got started, and he tells her, in two- and three-word answers, about Ghandi, the competition, and the decision to allow three-word answers at school out of respect for the teachers. Mrs. Hiatt seems impressed, and Dave has an idea. “Want to join?” he says. He writes out the rules and invites her to play the game with the fifth graders until it ends at noon the following day. Mrs. Hiatt knows she has acted badly, and now she sees a chance to make it up to the kids. She and Dave go back to the cafeteria and, to everyone’s surprise, apologize to each other in three-word phrases.

For the last day of the game, Mrs. Hiatt changes the rules a bit. All the kids at the school have to compete to be silent, grade by grade, with the kids in the other grades. The kindergarteners find it too hard, so they are exempt. Mr. Burton is thrilled. He records as much as he can from the final day of the game, and he hopes to write a whole book instead of just a paper about it.

On the last day of the experiment, Dave knows he has lost the game. His outburst with Mrs. Hiatt placed the boys behind the girls, and himself behind Lynsey. He goes into Thursday’s lunch period expecting to have to let Lynsey write a big L on his forehead. She surprises him, however, by taking the last few seconds of the game to say twenty-seven words:

I have to say this. My whole opinion changed. About boys. You really did the honor system great. And being quiet? Also great, everyone together. So...thanks.

The speech makes the competition even. The boys and girls tie.

It takes Dave a moment to understand what Lynsey has done. When he does, he wants to thank her and say he owes her, but he does not. He and Lynsey just sit and grin at each other, not saying a word.