Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
First Publication: 1999
Major Characters: Ivy Hall, Heather, Nichole Smythe Burnell, Melinda Sordino, Andy Evans, David Petrakis, Mr. Freeman, Rachel Bruin
Setting Place: Syracuse, New York (United States)
Theme: Communication versus Silence, Appearance versus Reality, Family and Friendship, Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression, Memory and Trauma
Narrator: First Person
Book Summary: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether.
Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her.
Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.
Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a character driven novel about a girl named Melinda who has just started high school. She is withdrawn, feels like an outcast, and has troubling talking as a result of being raped at a party over the summer. The story is a coming of age for Melinda as she learns how speaking up can be a good thing.
At the start of her Freshman year, Melinda finds herself a social pariah, having been dumped by all of her friends after attending a summer bash gone wrong, resulting in Melinda calling the cops and earning herself a leper status. While the events that occurred at the party remain a mystery until nearly the end of the story, Melinda’s torment, shame and silence are evident from page one.
As a reader, it is not hard to guess what happened that night, but everyone in Melinda’s life are completely oblivious as to what plagues her day in and day out. What follows is a truly heart wrenching story about a broken girl trying puzzle out the pieces of herself.
“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.”
What makes Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson great is the time when it was published. This book was published in 1999, almost 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, the YA genre didn’t exist. When Laurie Halse Anderson tried to get this published, a publisher emailed her back and said “it’s good, but teens don’t like reading”. The YA genre didn’t really become what it is today until after Twilight was published.
The first person narrative is fluid and natural. The paragraphs are short. To a large extent, this feels like a journal written by the narrator Melinda. To pull the reader closer to the action, the book is written in the present tense, so we’re encountering everything directly alongside Melinda. Melinda is struggling with her voice and with trying to figure out how to communicate her troubles and with whom.
“You have to know what you stand for, not just what you stand against.”
As the reader, we are the only one she truly communicates with. But even with us, she holds back. She keeps us at arms length so we don’t penetrate her wall and expose her pain and vulnerability. The voice is uniquely teenage and is a good portrayal of the thoughts of a teenage girl ostracized by her friends as she begins her Freshman year.
“Art without emotion its like chocolate cake without sugar. It makes you gag.”
I watched the movie right after I finished, and it’s a very faithful adaptation of the book that successfully captures the tone of the novel. If you enjoyed the book at all I would highly recommend giving movie a watch. Kristen Stewart actually played Melinda. She was fourteen years old when the movie was shot, and she did such a beautiful job of conveying Melinda’s emotions while having minimal dialogue.