Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publication Year: 1999
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Purchased from Chapters
From the cover:
Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.
I hadn’t heard of this book until I started blogging. Since then, I’ve seen a few reviews here and there, but obviously not a ton since it’s a fairly old novel (about ten years). Still, I had seen enough of them to know that I wanted to read it some time, so it had been on my wishlist for quite a few months.
It hadn’t made its way to the top of the list, though, until this weekend’s article written by Dr. Wesley Scroggins, who wants to have the book banned in his local public school district in Florida. At that point, I decided that I really should read this book now, especially given the timing of it: don’t forget, right now we’re about to start Banned Books Week.
So I went out the other day and bought a copy. (I figure this is a good reason to break my book buying ban.)
Yesterday, I sat down and read the book in one evening. It was fabulous.
The main arguments that Scroggins is using to try to have the book removed from the classroom are that Speak is pornographic and inappropriate. I disagree on both counts, particularly now that I have read the book. The scenes and dialogue that he comments on are described inaccurately and out of context, and that’s just the beginning.
In terms of being a young adult novel, Speak is probably one of the best that I have read. Anderson really gets into the mind of the character and gives her a voice, even though she doesn’t really have one of her own. Melinda is silent throughout most of the book, but we get to “hear” her thoughts and really understand her as a character, even though she doesn’t say much to those around her. Melinda doesn’t really explain what happened to her in full until about halfway through the book, though it’s pretty obvious by then what has happened – or, at the least, that something very serious and terrible has happened to her.
Melinda is obviously experiencing the aftermath of an extremely traumatic event, compounded by the fact that no one around her knows what has really happened, and is treating her as though she is a pariah. This just serves to make matters worse, because Melinda feels as though she has no one to talk to and no one understands her pain. She feels alone and isolated, which is never a good thing for someone who is already going through something extremely difficult.
I really loved the way that Anderson developed the character from the beginning of the novel until the end, from silence to starting to speak. It’s really interesting to be inside the mind of Melinda and to see and feel what she does, to put yourself in her place and really understand the psychology behind a teenager’s desire to keep quiet about something so difficult. I found it especially interesting to watch her slip farther and farther into depression, only to start to stand up for herself. I was sad that it took another traumatic event for her to really start to speak up, but also felt her happiness at smaller points leading up to that, when she was starting to realize that she had something valid to say about her experience.
This is definitely a book that I would recommend for pretty much any teenager I know, as well as anyone who teaches or otherwise works with teens. Speak is also a really great book to educate people about the inner workings of someone who has experienced this kind of trauma and hurt in their life, even if the exact events aren’t the same.
Melinda is a character that all sorts of people could relate to, even if the challenges that they have faced aren’t rape, but something else. She’s a character who starts out weak but ends up strong, who finds her way and begins to make herself whole again.
And that’s a story that we should all want to believe in and share, not try to hide and silence.
- 51/100 for the 1010 Category Challenge