Eve Bunting

A Sudden Silence

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A Sudden Silence Summary

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A Sudden Silence is a young adult fiction novel by Eve Bunting, a prolific Irish-American children’s book author and 1976 winner of the Golden Kite Award (awarded annually by the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for an exceptional piece of young adult fiction). First published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers in 1988, the mystery novel follows college-age Jesse Harmon, whose deaf brother, Bryan (called “Bry”) was killed in his brother’s presence in a car accident following a party.

The novel opens with Jesse announcing the time and date of his brother’s death. (Saturday, the 20th of June at 11:30 p.m.). Jesse, the narrator, explains that they were walking on the side of the Coast Highway following a party at the home of one Wilson Eichler. Jesse’s brother is struck from behind by a car, while Jesse jumped out of the way. Jesse (who is in college at UCLA) recollects the party itself, where he first meets his younger brother Bryan’s crush, Chloe Eichler (Wilson’s younger sister). Unlike Bry, Chloe is a “hearing girl,” and Jesse immediately finds her attractive, though suppresses this impulse with the understanding that she is admired by his brother. At the party, Jesse, Bry, and Chloe discuss where they like to surf.

After the accident itself, Officers Valle and McMeeken ask Jesse about the details of the collision, and his parents arrive to explain the unique circumstance of Bryan’s hearing impairment, which prevented him from hearing the approaching car. Jesse is very disappointed in himself that he cannot remember satisfactory details of the license plate or vehicle model. He remembers only that it was a large car with a curved back and so probably did not belong to any of the high-school-age students at the party.

The next day, Jesse visits the portion of Del Ray Beach adjacent to the spot on the highway where his brother was killed. He sees a man in a black windbreaker and shouts at him out of anger at the thought that someone could be so voyeuristic after a fatal car accident. Jesse also retrieves Bryan’s shoe, which he suspects was thrown off the highway onto the beach. He turns the shoe into Offer Valle in hopes that it will yield prints.

Jesse’s grandparents fly in from Minneapolis to attend Bry’s funeral. While in Bry’s room, the grandfather notices that his grandson was in the process of building a clock for Chloe. Jesse tried to hide this from his grandfather by tearing up the instructions, but his grandfather nevertheless recovers them and suggests that he and Jesse finish the clock. Jesse, who already feels guilty for his attraction to Chloe, refuses.

At the funeral, Chloe proposes to Jesse that they make posters in an effort to locate the car, which they do at Chloe’s house. They then go around to put up the posters at various establishments, including a laundromat, and an arcade where the owner remembers Bry for his impressive skill at arcade games.

Later on, Jesse contemplates going to the White Sands surfing competition. His pretext is to look for the man in the black windbreaker, but he suspects that he really wants to see Chloe, whom he finds wearing a bright red sweatshirt and yellow towel. Chloe cuts her foot on some glass on the beach, and Jesse takes her to the emergency room.

Afterwards, he spots the man in the black jacket. Chloe encourages him to park the car and look for the man, despite the fact that her foot is in pain. Jesse does so, and the man begins to run when he sees Jesse following him. Jesse eventually catches the man, pinning him to the ground. He finds out that the man is Joseph Plum, and that he is an alcoholic who admits to possibly killing Bry as he hasno recollection of the evening on which the accident took place. Jesse inspects his car’s profile and tires and concludes that he cannot be the killer. Jesse spends the evening at Chloe’s house while her parents go out to a party. They kiss, but when Chloe goes to bed, Jesse says that he does not feel comfortable calling her for a while.

As Jesse leaves Chloe’s house, he notices the profile of Chloe’s father’s car and recalls a similar car hitting his brother. Enraged and confused, Jesse resolves to find the bum named Sowbug who frequents the beach where his brother was killed, hoping that he will serve as a witness. He finds Sowbug under a tunnel and asks Sowbug to tell him about the driver who caused the accident, whom Sowbug must have seen when the person stepped out of the car to throw Bry’s shoe. Sowbug startles Jesse who he says that the driver was not a man, but an attractive woman with a shiny anklet.

The next day, Jesse calls Chloe and picks her up for a drive. While picking her up, he notices the anklet on Chloe’s mother. When Jesse tells Chloe of his revelation, she admits that her mother has always had a drinking problem, and could have driven on the night of the party.

The final scene reveals Jesse dating a girl named Debbie Green. While he is working at Taco Bell, Chloe and a boy come in. The newspapers have publicized her mother’s guilt and their family faces financial ruin. Jesse speaks with his father, who wonders whether he and his mother did an adequate job of raising Bry in a way that downplayed his deafness. Jesse’s mother has turned to religion, and they donate the reward money to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, as well as to a ranch that helps handicapped children. Jesse works at finishing the clock that his brother had been working on, unaware of what he will do with it when finished.