Week 4: Speak

Book summary: For most incoming freshmen, the first day of high school brings certain amounts of excitation, anxiety, curiosity, and trepidation. For Melinda Sordino, the first day of high school brings only silence. Ever since she called the cops on the biggest end-of-summer party, Melinda knows she’s public enemy number one. But the truth is buried so deeply, she can’t speak about it. She accepts her outcast role, rather than face the story in her head. But the intuitive guidance of her art teacher leads Melinda on a journey, one that chips away at the wall she has put around her memory of that night. A final encounter with her attacker ultimately breaks down the wall completely, resulting not only in her ability to speak, but to shout.

My impressions: This book haunts me, partly because I understand the feeling that you just can’t speak, partly because I’m sure it’s a story shared by countless girls who don’t know how to speak. Melinda’s depression avoids being overwhelming because ultimately, she hasn’t lost her sense of humor, or of the ridiculous. Some days, that’s just how it is. I’m reminded of the country song “I Don’t Know Whether to Kill Myself or Go Bowling”; that sounds like I’m making light of the situation, but really, situational depression is like that – you spend so much time trying to distract yourself from whatever thing it is you’re depressed about, that you actually make yourself laugh sometimes.

I’ll admit I picked this book because I thought I remembered that Kristin Stewart was in the movie, and I had watched just enough to decide that I’d probably like it if someone else was playing Bella – I mean Melinda! But I’m so glad that I did choose it. I read several reviews on Amazon from teens that they think Melinda is a weak character, unbelievable, and whiny; I wonder if they only watched the movie and are letting their feelings about Ms. Stewart affect their opinion of the book. At any rate, I suppose silence is sometimes seen as weakness in our society today.

Citation: Anderson, L.H. (1999). Speak. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Professional review:

“In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager. Divided into the four marking periods of an academic year, the novel, narrated by Melinda Sordino, begins on her first day as a high school freshman. No one will sit with Melinda on the bus. At school, students call her names and harass her; her best friends from junior high scatter to different cliques and abandon her. Yet Anderson infuses the narrative with a wit that sustains the heroine through her pain and holds readers’ empathy. A girl at a school pep rally offers an explanation of the heroine’s pariah status when she confronts Melinda about calling the police at a summer party, resulting in several arrests. But readers do not learn why Melinda made the call until much later: a popular senior raped her that night and, because of her trauma, she barely speaks at all. Only through her work in art class, and with the support of a compassionate teacher there, does she begin to reach out to others and eventually find her voice. Through the first-person narration, the author makes Melinda’s pain palpable: “I stand in the center aisle of the auditorium, a wounded zebra in a National Geographic special.” Though the symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed, it is effective. The ending, in which her attacker comes after her once more, is the only part of the plot that feels forced. But the book’s overall gritty realism and Melinda’s hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired. Ages 12-up.

SPEAK. (1999, September 13). [Review of the book Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson]. Publishers Weekly, 246(37), 85. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA55810684&v=2.1&u=txshracd2679&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w

Library uses: I would like to use this book with a YA book club. Although most youths (hopefully) have not faced such an awful situation, I think many could relate to the idea of being an outsider, the anxiety about starting high school, the cliques, the general mistrust of adults, and losing friends you had in high school because they branched out into different interests.

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