Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Originally published in 1999 by Farrar Straus Girroux
My edition: the Kindle edition of the 2011 paperback by Farrar Straus Girroux (pictured above).
What’s it about?
Ever since Melinda busted an end of the summer party, no one will talk to her. In return, she retreats into herself and practically stops speaking herself. Only her art class provides her with solace and it’s through this that she begins to come to terms with what happened to her at that party.
This book is legendary in the YA world and yet it managed to fly under my radar until the last year or so. With the recent focus on rape culture, women and oppression in the media and on the internet, it was the perfect time to read Speak.
Speak is a novel that is frequently banned for ludicrous reasons and that power has made it legendary in the YA world. It was definitely powerful and beautifully written, but I wasn’t as blown away as I expected to be.
Laurie Halse Anderson captures the suffocating microcosm of high school perfectly. Melinda’s narration is almost stream of consciousness and plants you firmly in her head and her world. Her miserable, lonely school life mirroring her home life and the desperation both settings bring to her are palpable; I just wanted to gather her up and hide her from the brutality of the world.
Melinda chose to deal with the far-reaching effects of that party in the only way that felt safe: invisibility. There wasn’t an area of her life that wasn’t damaged by the rape. At any age, it would be horrific; but at only thirteen there’s so much more to damage I think. It framed her whole outlook on life and experience of people and everything around her. I expected her to shut herself down immediately and to go into Speak with Melinda already completely silent. I was surprised to see the gradual inset of it, but now I’m glad it went that way. The way it affected her and the lack of anything she got from the people in her life pushed her into it; it was the only way she could cope.
When Melinda finally broke her silence on the truth about the party she was shot down and my heart broke for her. Her art class and Mr Freedman became even more prevalent in Melinda’s survival after that. It was her only form of expression and her struggle to express emotion led her to believe that she had something inside of her to fight back. To speak up. The knowledge that none of it was her fault was also strong and well placed; it’s essential for people reading this book, whether they’ve experienced what Melinda has or not, to know that it is never the victim’s fault.
Speak is a powerful novel and essential reading for boys and girl alike. Even though it didn't blow my mind, I know that every positive thing said about this novel is entirely true.
Still not convinced?
- It’s a banned book. That alone should make you want to read it!
- It was a Printz Honor Book.
- Read about Laurie talking about how many people have been helped by Speak.
Can you understand why it’s a frequently banned book? Should it be taught/recommended in schools?