Book: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Published: Puffin Books, 1999
Genre: Young Adult
Buy It: Amazon
Summary (from Goodreads): Since the beginning of the school year, high school freshman Melinda has found that it's been getting harder and harder for her to speak out loud: "My throat is always sore, my lips raw.... Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter or freeze.... It's like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis." What could have caused Melinda to suddenly fall mute? Could it be due to the fact that no one at school is speaking to her because she called the cops and got everyone busted at the seniors' big end-of-summer party? Or maybe it's because her parents' only form of communication is Post-It notes written on their way out the door to their nine-to-whenever jobs. While Melinda is bothered by these things, deep down she knows the real reason why she's been struck mute...
Laurie Halse Anderson's first novel is a stunning and sympathetic tribute to the teenage outcast. The triumphant ending, in which Melinda finds her voice, is cause for cheering (while many readers might also shed a tear or two). After reading Speak, it will be hard for any teen to look at the class scapegoat again without a measure of compassion and understanding for that person--who may be screaming beneath the silence.
My thoughts: There has been a lot of buzz around Speak lately after this article by Wesley Scroggins. I saw the movie a couple years ago but never got around to reading the book. With this week being banned books week, I decided there has never been a better time to read it. I found that the movie is actually very true to the book.
Melinda Sordino became a social outcast overnight after getting a party busted during the summer before her freshman year. Nobody knows the real reason why she called the cops that night because she is afraid to tell anyone. The story is a sad but unfortunately very believable one. High school was a very different experience for me because I went to the same school from 5th grade until I graduated. We all grew up together and were a fairly tight knit group. There were acts of bullying, name calling and casting people out of the "cliques", but there was never anyone quite like Melinda. There were 4 other very large high schools in my city and they were all very similar to Melinda's Merryweather High.
There is a darkness in Speak that the reader is aware of from the start, yet Anderson manages to add humor and sarcasm into the mix. I felt like this was exactly the kind of story students about to enter high school should read. It is tough subject matter told in a relatable voice which is very important for young teens. It also goes to show that speaking up is very important. Once Melinda was able to stand up for herself and speak out about what happened to her that night, there was a weight lifted off her shoulders. She still didn't forget about the incident, but she was able to get help and make others aware of it so it wouldn't happen to them. Banning this book (or any book) is only preventing teens from getting a lesson in how to deal with sex and the pressures of growing up. Parents and teachers try to pretend that their kids aren't dealing with these issues and that's exactly how a teen ends up in Melinda's position. It's sad to see her want to tell her parents multiple times, but she's too scared and ashamed. Reading Speak for the first time as an adult, I wanted to shake Melinda until she realized she can't run away from her troubles. It was a great triumph to see her finally tell her story to her friends, family and teachers.
The verdict: 3 stars