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Stronger Than Words

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Mackenzie Craig is no stranger to struggling. After a childhood marred by poverty and homelessness, she's worked her way up to the number two spot in her graduating class and secured a scholarship to a great college. But then Mackenzie collapses at the state debate championships. She's rushed to the hospital where her prognosis is grave--she's having a stroke.

Mackenzie wakes up unable to walk or speak normally. She works hard to return to school in time to graduate, but when she overhears a classmate insulting her little sister, she doesn't have the words to tell him off, so she punches him.

When her college finds out about the assault, they threaten to revoke her scholarship. Mackenzie must meet with them to defend her actions before the fall semester starts. But August is only three months away. Can she re-learn to communicate in time for her hearing? Or will her stroke steal away her entire future?

Stronger than Words is an uplifting story about perseverance, hope, and human connection.

**For links to the book, see author "review" below**

322 pages, ebook

Published December 1, 2019

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About the author

Paula Stokes

18 books1,154 followers
*** Please contact me via the contact information on my website: authorpaulastokes.com ***

Paula Stokes is half writer, half RN, and totally thrilled to be part of the world of YA literature. She started out writing historical fiction under a pen name and is now branching out into other YA genres.

When she's not working (rare), she's kayaking, hiking, reading, or seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She's petted tigers, snuggled snakes, snorkeled with stingrays, and once enjoyed the suction-cuppy feel of a baby elephant's trunk as it ate peanuts from her palm. Her future goals include diving with Great White sharks, learning Krav Maga, and writing a whole slew of novels, not necessarily in that order.

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Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
Profile Image for The Half-blood Reader.
928 reviews52 followers
May 2, 2020
Review of the manuscript uploaded to swoonreads.

When I woke up after my stroke, I felt like the life I’d always planned for was impossible, like everything I’d ever wanted was suddenly out of reach, and would be forever. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe everything is still there, and all I have to do is find my way back to it.

Stronger Than Words is a story about recovery, family, resilience and inner growth.

Mackenzie Craig is a fighter, someone strong, ambitious, someone who perseveres. A debate champion, aiming to become a lawyer, she has experienced first hand some big hardships, which have motivated her to work hard so she'll never be poor or homeless again.

After her stroke, she must once again put her perseverance to the test, as she recovers from aphasia and reduced mobility.

This is a compelling story: fighting your way up not once, but twice, this time after having been ripped off your biggest strength is, frankly, empowering! Mackenzie's forte are her words, I'm the same, and I could feel her panic at having this weapon, this shield, this professional tool, this means of expression taken away.

My stroke didn’t affect my intelligence, but it’s hard not to feel academically impaired when I can’t really speak or write. I mean, I know all of my knowledge is still inside me, but does anyone else know that?

During the course of the book, through many experiences, Kenzie realizes who she wants to be as a person and allows herself to change certain perspectives about life and how to live it.

I absolutely loved Mackenzie's relationship with her sister, Cheyenne! And I loved Chey. They are such a united front, always there for each other - really, such a healthy sibling relationship.

Due to Kenzie's community service, we get to meet all these cute animals for us to coo at, and some romance. But never fear, it does not take over the plot! This is very much Mackenzie's journey to acceptance of her new reality and maturing as a person, maybe in ways she wouldn't have if circumstances were different. Thank the animals, the animals bring out her softie side, it's endearing!

I hope this book, as well as sources from real people who have gone through this, will open people's minds about some ableist ideas floating around and make them question what is "normal", and does it even exist?

There are so many important messages present, but I don't want to quote the manuscript excessively, so I'll leave you with my words: you're important and your feelings are valid. You can do anything you set your mind to.
Profile Image for Paula Stokes.
Author 18 books1,154 followers
December 31, 2019
Hi reader-peeps. Thank you to the Goodreads fairy who added this book for me :)

Three major things inspired this book: First, I started doing volunteer work with the Portland homeless community and realized that the reasons people become homeless are a lot more varied and complex than what we see in the media. Second, I thought about how important words are to me--I use them as tools, as weapons, as armor, to feel good about myself, to escape my pain. What would it be like if the words I rely on for so many things were suddenly ripped away without warning? Finally, while researching aphasia, I came across several articles and videos about teen stroke survivors, in particular four girls from the state where I grew up who had all had strokes during high school and formed a support group during their recovery. I was brought to tears by their stories--both the individual ones and the ones they created by joining forces to help each other heal.

I drafted STRONGER THAN WORDS two years ago, and spent six months revising it and eighteen months trying to sell it with the help of my agent. We got close once, but ultimately we didn't find a home at a traditional publisher, so I decided to post it for free on Swoon Reads and Wattpad.

Some authors feel like it's better professionally to shelve a book than give it away (and maybe they're right, who can tell?), but a lot of people gifted me their time and expertise when I was writing this. I spoke to doctors, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and of course, stroke survivors. I didn't want their efforts to be for nothing. Plus, I love this story and I think it has the potential to empower readers by encouraging them to acknowledge and embrace their personal strengths. It also has an abundance of cute animals and sisterly love, and an ending that balances realism with hope--you know how I like to do that ;)

If you enjoyed Girl Against the Universe, you should definitely give this one a try. If possible, check it out on Swoon Reads and leave a rating and comment. All feedback is helpful, and who knows, maybe you can help this story find its way to the shelves of bookstores and/or libraries someday :)

Thanks for reading this, and thanks for being you <3
Profile Image for Samantha (WLABB).
3,439 reviews233 followers
January 5, 2020
Rating: 4.5 stars

Another beautifully told story from Paula Stokes!

Kenzie was 18 years old, and the future she had worked so hard for, was finally within her grasp. But, when she suffers a stroke, her plans seem to be on shaky ground, and now she might lose everything she had worked so hard for.

The book definitely started with some serious heartbreak, but I knew there was no way but up for Mackenzie. She was just a phenomenal character. She had grit, determination, and drive, and I couldn't help but admire her. She had been knocked down before, but she never let it stop her from going after what she wanted, and I knew she would overcome these setbacks as well.

It was a rocky journey, though, but luckily, Mackenzie had a great team behind her. The greatest source of support came in the form of her sister, Cheyenne. She seemed to really understand Kenzie on a different level. She knew when to push and when to retreat, but mostly, she just was there for Kenzie with an open mind and lots of love. A good sibling relationship will always score points with me, and this one, was a great one.

I enjoyed seeing Kenzie make progress with her speech, but I really loved the way her worldview changed. Once upon a time, she was always running towards her goals - go, go, go! The stroke forced her to slow down, and it afforded her time to take a look around and focus on things outside of her goals. She grew to embrace her life changes, and to not just see the stroke as something that robbed her of her speech and mobility, but something that gave her back her close relationship with her sister, as well as introducing her to the animal shelter, where she met Dalton.

Dalton was such a wonderful love interest for Kenzie. He was so kind and patient, and we all know, if animals like someone, they are good people. I appreciated his passion for filmmaking, as well as his adorable interactions with Kenzie.

There's quite a bit of messaging contain within this story, but two stood out for me. I love that idea that as humans, we are messy. We make mistakes and bad choices, but they do not define us. We pay the price, and we are free to move on from there. There was also the idea that no man is an island. It is not a sign of weakness to need or accept help from others. This was a big lesson for Kenzie, but an important one.

Overall: I greatly enjoyed taking this journey with Mackenzie, who faced each challenge that presented itself head-on, and persevered until she conquered it.

* I read a manuscript of this book on SwoonReads, which does not affect my opinion in any way.

Profile Image for Jessica (Goldenfurpro).
884 reviews252 followers
August 22, 2020
I read this online on Swoon Reads.

I honestly wasn't sure what to expect from this book. I went into this book without rereading the synopsis, so I went in with no idea what to expect. It did take me a little to get into this book. The first chapter introduces us to Mackenzie, a teen girl with high hopes for a college and a future in law. She's a debater, a runner, and tries her hardest to reach high goals for herself. At first, I think I had a hard time connecting with Mackenzie, as we are given a lot of information at once. I admit, I set this book aside for a bit and I wasn't sure if I would come back. Back I did decide to pick the book back up and, boy, was I glad I did. One day, at a debate, Mackenzie collapses and it isn't until she's at the hospital that she finds out that she had just suffered a stroke. Not only that, but her stroke impacted her speech, and her goals for the future for farther out of reach.

Then, I was hooked. I was also shocked because I have never seen a YA book, or any book, discuss strokes in young people and I wanted to see Mackenzie get through this. I liked how this book took the topic on, and really let us into Mackenzie's mind. I felt her frustrations with her, and she felt like a realistic person. She had her flaws, but she also had her strengths. Throughout the book, we can really see her grow and understand what happened to her and how she can still take back her future. Of course, I have to mention her best support system, her sister Chey, who was one of the best characters in the book (besides Wheels).

I also loved that Mackenzie and Dalton worked at an animal shelter in the book. I absolutely love it when animals are featured in books, but as someone who has volunteered at animal shelters, it just makes me happy to see animal shelters in books as a setting. I will admit that it's tough to get me to like a romance, but I did like Mackenzie and Dalton together. I liked how they bonded over the animals and how they helped each other. Of course, they have their fair share of struggles, but I liked how this was shown candidly in the book. I also liked that the romance took a backseat. The main crux of the book was still about Mackenzie.

Overall, I am glad I gave this manuscript a chance.
877 reviews
February 16, 2020
A stroke severely hampers Mackenzie’s ability to communicate and her college plans become further endangered when her struggle to speak in her sister’s defense leads to talking via her fist instead.

Mackenzie was well-written, you feel and understand her frustration but it never becomes a self-pity party, right from the start (before the stroke) she’s portrayed as someone willing to put in the hard work, she’s ambitious by nature, and that remains very much who she is despite her vastly changed circumstances. She does have her down moments as any human would, but she’s also someone who persists, so a situation that could have leaned towards depressing wound up being pretty uplifting throughout.

Initially, the romance seemed a little uneventful, like maybe it wouldn’t grow any more complicated than Dalton just being the good guy Mackenzie deserves after all she’s been through, and I was okay with that, however, as the relationship evolved it entered into more interesting territory. The conflicts, involving sex, and involving his parents, were smartly crafted, you could see why Mackenzie took issue with him, yet you could also understand his side of it, too.

Also about Dalton, I just wanted to note that it’s kind of refreshing that he isn’t the chiseled body type found in most fictional romances, not that I have anything against that type, it’s just that if we’re going to ask pop culture to be more inclusive as far as females then males should probably every now and then be depicted in more realistic terms, too.

Ultimately, the heart of this story isn’t the romance or even the adorable kitten on wheels, it’s the bond Mackenzie and her younger sister share, the support they show one another, there’s something particularly wonderful about the lack of judgment despite them being two very different young women.
Profile Image for Lusitania .
2 reviews
May 9, 2020
Review of the manuscript uploaded on swoonreads.

This manuscript was a bit of a mixed bag for me. For starters, as a lifelong resident of the Willamette valley I always get excited when I find Oregon rep in literature, especially when the author is familiar with the area, as Paula Stokes clearly is. I really enjoyed all the name dropping of actual places in the Portland Metro Area and, though I've never personally been big on Portland myself, Ms. Stokes very clearly and articulately captured the feel of living in that city.

Secondly, I really connected with Mackenzie's struggles to learn how to speak again. While I have never suffered anything close to a stroke, I have struggled with a speech impediment since childhood so I know how frustrating it can been when you can't always express your thoughts in as articulate or as timely a manner as your peers. Also, it's evident that Ms. Stokes put a lot of time into researching strokes and the kinds of rehabilitation stroke patients go through on their path to recovery which ultimately lends credence to the believability and flow of the overall narrative.

One trivial thing I liked: Wheels enjoying car rides. For many years I was the proud owner of an orange and cream tabby who loved to go on car rides. I've never encountered an instance of a cat enjoying car rides in a work of fiction so it was a pleasant surprise to read about a cat so similar to one I used to own.

There were a few things, however, that didn't work for me in this book. One of them being, minor inconsistencies in the plot. In one chapter, for example, Mackenzie mentions that Dalton dropped her off at home after returning from a trip to the vet. The very next chapter, which takes place a day later, however, Dalton texts her asking her where she lives so he will know where to pick her up - something he should already know. There are also minor things that I feel were never fully explained to the reader - why did Mackenzie feel like she had to do all 120 hours of community service before her meeting with the board when the judge gave her till the end of the year to complete her service hours? How did Dalton know she had a stroke? Did Rosa tell him before he met Mackenzie? Did he make an educated guess after googling medical conditions online? And why were there never any other volunteers at the animal rescue center aside from Dalton? Since Mackenzie volunteers on the weekends, and most people are off work/off school on the weekends, one would assume there would be at least a few other volunteers helping out at the center when Mackenzie is there. Again, it's never really clear. I assume if this book ever gets picked up for publication, a decent editor would point out the inconsistencies and areas that aren't totally clear and they would suggest minor edits to those segments.

My biggest issue with the text, however, is with the characterizations of some of the characters. For starters, let's look at Cheyenne. She is arguably the most fleshed-out/ well-written character in the book. However, this strength is also a bit of a weakness unfortunately as pretty much all the other characters pale in comparison to her. As at least one other reviewer pointed out, the mother, in particular suffers from Cheyenne being such a strong character. The majority of the time Cheyenne came across as being more adult/mature/rational than the mother, which was extremely unfortunate. Given that Mackenzie didn't really have any friends during the course of the novel, I think that it would have had worked better if Cheyenne's characteristics (her love of volunteering, political activism, vegetarianism, etc.) had been transplanted onto another character, perhaps another animal shelter volunteer, who Mackenzie could interact with on a regular basis/befriend.

On a similar note, let's look at Simi, the only friend of Mackenzie's that we ever meet over the course the summer. I was really disappointed by Simi's treatment or lack there of throughout the course of the book. First mentioned in the first few pages of the book, she quickly disappears from the text by around the 20-25% mark only to reappear from the abyss around the 80-85% mark for a brief moment to reveal some critical info to Mackenzie. She then promptly disappears again. It occurred to me while reading that this character was clearly a plot device and not a 'true' character. In my opinion, a reader should never feel that a character is superfluous and serves no purpose except to help move the plot forward and yet this description fits Simi to a tee. As stated above, I would have liked to see Mackenzie have at least one true, well-fleshed out friend over the course of the novel - perhaps Simi could fill this role one day with some creative re-envisioning of her place in the overall novel as either a school friend or a new acquaintance at the animal rescue center.

Lastly, let's talk about Dalton. As much as I liked Dalton, I couldn't help but think he was just a slightly more insecure version of Jordy from Ms. Stokes' earlier work Girl Against the Universe. Both boys come from affluent families (both boys comment that their parents' are really the one's paying for food they buy for the McGuire and Mackenzie), their houses are described very similarly (big screen TVs in multiple rooms of the house, a very big clean and orderly home that Mackenzie and McGuire are afraid to mess up/make dirty), their parents (especially their mothers) are described very similarly (wanting to control their sons' lives, critical of their sons wanting to get involved with McGuire and Mackenzie), and both boys being a bit hesitant to express to their parents what they really want in life. Don't get me wrong, I really liked Dalton and I really liked Jordy when I read Girl Against the Universe. However, I just wish Dalton was a more unique character and didn't fall back on the same tropes Ms. Stokes explored previously in her earlier work. Again, with some creative rewrites, I think Dalton could be a truly special and unique character and not just a less confident, shyer shade of Jordy.

One trivial thing I didn't like: what is up with the cover? Two teens huddled under an umbrella in the rain? This book takes place in the summer - the one time of year you are pretty much guaranteed to not to need an umbrella in the otherwise notoriously rainy pacific northwest.

My final thoughts: Paula Stokes is a talented author in the YA verse. Her characters come across as actual teens and not as an adult trying to sound like a teen. I have enjoyed several of her previous works, particularly Girl Against the Universe. While I had my issues with this book, overall, it was an enjoyable read. With some edits, I think it could become an even stronger piece. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Hayley.
1,010 reviews61 followers
January 16, 2020
This was so good.
I really loved the relationship between Cheyenne and Mackenzie, it's really nice to see a positive sisterly relationship, where they support each other and help each other.
Dalton was a really sweet love interest, and I like that that storyline wasn't the main point, but more of an added extra.
Well worth the read, I would love to see this published one day.
1 review1 follower
January 8, 2020
Stronger than Words is beyond amazing. You will be taken on a fanatic journey filled with trials and triumphs. Journeying along with the main character you get to experience her vibrant world and feel alongside her. When her world crashes around her, you are able to venture along side her to see if she will regain what she lost. Kept on your toes you will definitely want more. I highly recommend opening this book, you will not be disappointed. 🤓
Profile Image for Alyssa.
527 reviews8 followers
March 25, 2020
Mackenzie is ready to graduate and go to the college of her choice. While in a debate competition, she just had a stroke and she can't speak anymore. So she has to relearn how to speak properly again. But while trying to defend her sister, Mackenzie did something that her college wasn't to pleased about and they're about to pull her scholarship out, unless Mackenzie can explain to them what really happened. How can she explain herself when she can't speak properly?

The book description reeled me in! I love the idea that a debate competitor, someone who speaks a lot, instantly loses the ability to speak, it's something so unique. I also love that the book let's us see through a stroke patient's perspective.

The story is very engaging and the flow is really great. I really like how one thing happens, and another thing adds to it. I appreciated that it can be unexpected.

The characters are great too. I like Mackenzie's journey and seeing her character development grow slowly is great. It's like the reader is learning with her. Her sister is such a Portlandian! I love it. Because of that, the book also discusses about current issues, like politics and environmental concerns. And it just adds a really nice touch to the whole thing. Mackenzie and her sister's bond is amazing! It just adds that heart to the book.

The love story is so cute! The way it started was kind of meh for me, but the way they're story progresses is so adorable. I like how the love interest is not perfect. I love that he doesn't say the perfect things all the time. Cause that's how relationships are, they grow together!

I really enjoyed this book. I love that it talks about multiple things and they worked so well! I truly recommend it! This book didn't remind me of anything, I thought this story was quite unique.

* I read this book from Swoonreads.com
Profile Image for John Clark.
2,264 reviews25 followers
April 6, 2020
This is about as good as a YA book can get. A family struggling, Dad in prison, Mom and her daughters homeless after his incarceration, Money still tight after they do get an apartment. 18 year old MacKenzie is constantly pushing herself to do/be better, has a scholarship waiting at Pacifica College and is about to shine at a debate tournament when she trips during her three mile run. Just before she's to rebut her opponent at the debate, she starts feeling strange and collapses. Ten days later, she's discharged from the hospital and looking at a completely different future thanks to a stroke.
What follows involves her constantly going through an emotional yo-yo cycle, determined at times to persevere, feeling completely whipped at others. It's her losing her temper (for a very good reason) at her high school graduation and punching a male student in the mouth. He presses charges and she's not only in danger of losing her scholarship, but she must perform community service. When she starts that service at a local no-kill shelter, things start to get quite interesting. Read the story to find out why. Thumbs up for the author creating such an amazing and supportive sister for MacKenzie.
Profile Image for Theresa.
30 reviews54 followers
March 13, 2020
So many great things in this story, especially the bond between the two sisters - MacKenzie and Cheyenne - I think Cheyenne's optimism played a key role in MacKenzie's recovery.
I loved seeing how much MacKenzie pushed herself and learned so much about herself along the way that she might have not have, had she not had the stroke. Yes, she was one to push herself because of things that happened to her and her family when she was younger, but the recovery from the stroke put things on another level.
I also liked the relationship between MacKenzie and Dalton. Meeting at an animal shelter, slowly getting to know each other and communicating.
My favorite part: 'people deserve a second chance'. Something we all need to remember.
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