Speak

by Laurie Halse Anderson
ages: mature 12+
First sentence: “It is my first morning of high school.”

I was wandering through the bookstore a couple months back, and I chanced upon a display with the 10th anniversary edition of this book. Some part of my brain recognized it (aside from “Hey, that’s the woman who wrote Chains!”) as an important/noteworthy book, and willed me to stop. I picked it up, read the back and the first section, and was hooked. I didn’t walk away with it that night (ah, self control!), but went home and put it on hold at the library. (I think I may have to go buy it now, though.)

Melinda is beginning her freshman year as a complete and total outcast because she called the cops on a party a few weeks prior to the beginning of school. And the year goes downhill from there. Melinda spends the year trying to survive (and not always making it), while her grades fall and she spends more and more time locked inside her head. As it turns out, calling the cops wasn’t so much a tattling thing (as one might initially suspect) but a real cry for help from Melinda, who was raped at the party. As the year progresses, Melinda comes to terms with what happened to her that night, as well as the person who did it to her.

Jen Robinson pointed out two things in her review that I thought were worth mentioning. One, that it’s a scarily accurate portrayal of someone who is monumentally depressed. Melinda is hopeless, and while she spends much of the book living in her head, and trying to escape her world, it’s not a hopeless book. She’s funny on occasion, and her powers of observation are keen, especially about the stupidity of the high school world. Secondly, Jen mentioned that Anderson hopes that teenage boys will read this book, if only to get a sense about what a young woman who has been raped would possibly go through. One of the things I liked most about the book was realizing that while Melinda was suffering in silence, she wasn’t necessarily the only one suffering; her actions caused her parents, teachers, and, yes, even old friends (at least the ones who noticed) worry, and while that worry was often misdirected and misapplied, they were affected by her.

But the thing that got me most was that Anderson was able to take something as harsh as rape and put a human face on it, and make you feel something (depression, anger, triumph) for Melinda. That’s a mark of a good writer. And a good book.

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7 thoughts on “Speak

  1. Great review Melissa,I absolutely loved this book. I read it about 8 years ago or so, but it hasn’t lost a thing over the years. In fact, I think it has just gotten better. Anderson is one of my all-time favorite authors. I loved Chains, can’t wait for Forge and hopefully the library will be notifying me to pick up Wintergirls soon!!

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  2. Have you read many of her books? I haven’t read any, but she’s one of the authors that will be at the LA Festival of Books next month, and I’ve been meaning to check her out. Any suggestions on where to start?

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  3. I haven’t read any of her books yet, but I’ve heard great things. I actually had this one out from the library before, but I could tell it was going to be heavy and I just wasn’t in the mood. I’m sure I’ll get back to it one of these days!

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