When You Know What I Know


By Sonja K. Solter

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This harrowing, and ultimately hopeful novel in verse sensitively depicts a girl's journey through the aftermath of abuse.
One day after school, on the couch in the basement, Tori's uncle did something bad. Afterward, Tori tells her mom. Even though telling was a brave thing to do, her mom still doesn't believe her at first. Her grandma still takes his side. And Tori doesn't want anyone else—even her best friend—to know what happened.

Now Tori finds herself battling mixed emotions—anger, shame, and sadness—as she deals with the trauma. But with the help of her mom, her little sister, her best friend, and others, can Tori find a way to have the last word?

From debut author Sonja K. Solter comes a heartbreaking yet powerful novel that will strike a chord with readers of Jacqueline Woodson and Tony Abbott.



When you know

what I know,

you’ll wish you


It’s not the kind

of thing you can

talk about

at school or

at the park

or anywhere,

with a new friend

or an old one

or even with your sister.

(She’s too little.)

But it’s everywhere

once you know,

once you can’t

not know.

In your face,

under your eyelids.

If you turn

your back on it,

there it is anyway.


I keep catching a glimpse of

That Face in the mirror,

That Face from right after,

locked in the bathroom,

after He was gone,

praying Mom would just

get back, come home.

And I want to shat-

ter the glass shat-

ter That Face haunt-

ing me with her

dead eyes.

And never

have to see

That Face


That Face

that is mine.


She didn’t believe me.


my Mom, Mommy, Mama—

she said,



Uncle Andy?

Didn’t believe me.

No—no, he

wouldn’t do that.

Didn’t believe me.

Honey, you must have


You know how he

plays around,

how goofy he is—

just like you.

And it was like she put

a pillow over my

brain and I couldn’t—

couldn’t breathe,

couldn’t think anymore.

Was it—was it

possible? Did I—

DID I misunderstand?

And then a whooshing-wave-


roared up my legs and

out my ears and blew

off the top of my head.

Believe me.




      Believe me.

But she didn’t.


I sit,

pasted to my bed

stuffed with a hush

that drowns my mind.

I stare;

the red curtain folds


above the heater vent.

I blink;

metal wires pop out

at me: the cage

next to my desk.

Suddenly its bars trap me

inside the memory

that floods my mind as if

it’s happening right now—

Chittering laughs of children

at my eighth birthday party.

Nestling softness in my palms;

Uncle Andy’s deep booming voice.

His hands cup mine, giving me

the best present of all time:

a hamster.

I standupwalkovercrouchdown


through the metal wire.

And I reach out

—not to her—

to the door

in the middle

the one we NeverEver



Rhea and I tell

each other


Always have.

And here she is

sitting next to me

at lunch on Tuesday.

Rhea who told me

when she got her period

so young, even though

she looked like she

wanted to die.

But I don’t know

what to do

what to do

what to do.

It’s too hard

to say




So I just chew my lip

and don’t talk to my

best friend until she

gets in a huff

and leaves to

sit at another table.

And I chew and chew and chew—

but not my food.


What if I hadn’t gone down to the basement?

(He said not to follow him down there. He said that.)

What if I’d stopped wrestling around last year?

(Back when Mom said, Aren’t you getting too old for that?)

What if I hadn’t tickled him on the tummy that other time?

What if I’d gone over to Rhea’s that day?

What if I hadn’t laughed at first?

What if he didn’t really mean it like that?

What if he thought that’s what I wanted?

What if I’d told him to knock it off?

What if these What-Ifs are right?

What if I’m wrong?

What if I’m just paranoid?

What if it’s—what if—it’s me—what if I—what

if I made a—what if it was a mistake?

What if what if what if

what if what if what if what if

what if what if what if what if what if what

if what if what if what if what if what if what if

what if what if what if what if what if what if w

hat if what if what if what if what if what if wha

t if what if what if what if what if what if what i

f what if what if what if what if what if what if w

hat if what if what if what if whatif whatif whatif

whatif whatif whatifwhatifwhat—

Class, put your pencils down.

I watch my test packet

shuffle forward

row by row

to Mr. Jenkins’s desk.

Somewhere in that huge pile

of papers:

my blank one.


What are we, six?

Rhea uncaps a glue stick

and adds final touches

to her Halloween decoration.

I nod, which some part of me

knows doesn’t make sense.

But I’m not really listening to her

usual wanting-to-be-older talk.

A white noise hum

purrs away

inside me.

I let it lull me away from

everything out there.

Class 5J: preparing us for kindergarten

instead of middle school.

Now Rhea’s frowning at me

so I’d better say something.

Otherwise she might ask me

What’s Wrong.

(And I can’t tell her.)

I point to her wispy ghost girl.

Yours looks good, though.

Yeah, I’ll admit

I kind of like her.

Rhea lifts her up and

whooshes her shredded

tissue skirt around.

The hum inside gets

more intense,

pulling me back.


I lift up whatever it is that

I made. A ghost too, I guess.

Rhea’s eyes widen.

Whoa, yours looks—

Modern? Abstract?

Dead, I say.

Rhea nods. That’s appropriate.


Are you sure?

Are you sure

you don’t want to

dress up this year?

Go trick-or-treating?

Mom drops the fabric

onto the counter,

the shimmery blue fabric

I chose six months ago:

shimmery blue because

I’d decided to be a genie,

six months ago because

Halloween is was

my favorite holiday.

I lie and tell her

my friends aren’t dressing up

this year.

I channel Rhea:

too babyish,

too last-year.

Her gaze lowers,

disappointed eyes

look down at the fabric,

hands smooth it.

But you love Halloween.

Used to—I used to love it, I say,

which is the truth.

Then I shrug like I don’t care,

and the shrug is a lie.

I don’t tell her

that people dressing up

to be different

to be not-themselves

to be monsters

just doesn’t sound fun



Thursday after school,

has it only been

three days?

Three days

since It


Now, sounds

scratch at

my brain.

Everyone’s singing


The piano clanks

and clunks

and the soprano next to me


My hands itch to

cover my ears

but Ms. Radkte

glances my way

so I force my lips

to move instead.

Then the hum is there—

here in me—

filling me up

with its emptiness.

I keep moving my lips

with the now-muted song.

The world has gone


like my voice.

The vibrations of the piano

of the singers

shake my feet

rattle my bones

but they don’t reach me


not really.

So much silence in

all that noise.


Mom’s distracted,

lost in her checkbook,

cheeks sucking in

from unhappy surprises


  • "Written with leap-off-the page boldness and sensitivity, Sonja K. Solter's When You Know What I Know is as fresh and profound a story of hope in the aftermath of tragedy as I have ever read. Young readers will hang on every word of Tori's confusion, pain, and hard-won renewal. A triumph!"—Tony Abbott, author of The Summer of Owen Todd and The Great Jeff
  • "Solter emphasizes the emotional effects both of the molestation and of the disparate reactions she encounters when others hear about it. This offering of hope after trauma is, importantly, unromanticized."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "A difficult but important read, giving a voice to sexual abuse survivors and helping others see the complexity of emotions and the hard work that goes into the healing process."—School Library Journal
  • "The book is smart."—The Bulletin
  • "This gentle take on a sensitive subject could be comforting for a child coping with sexual abuse. Debut author Sonja K. Solter made a wise decision in choosing to write When You Know What I Know in verse. The poetry conveys the sense of participating intimately in Tori's inner journey through a difficult experience in her life. The tale is emotionally raw without having to be graphic about the abuse."—Barbara Suanders, Common Sense Media, A+ review

On Sale
Mar 23, 2021
Page Count
224 pages

Sonja K. Solter

About the Author

Sonja K. Solter graduated from Stanford University and earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University, with a critical thesis on writing trauma in middle grade and young adult realistic fiction. She is currently a creative writing mentor to youth with the Society of Young Inklings and enjoys writing poetry and prose for children of all ages. Sonja lives with her husband and two children in Louisville, CO. When You Know What I Know is her debut novel.

Learn more about this author