Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK

Cover of "Speak"

Cover of Speak

Soooo….. awhile back, I mentioned that I was going to try to read through the PersnickitySnark list of the top 100 YA books of 2010

and I’m now exactly 1 book closer to the end of the list šŸ™‚

Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK was actually intriguing me long before I got ahold of the PersnickitySnark list because I’d watched several interviews with Anderson as she discussed the banning of her Contemporary YA story of a girl who’s raped before her freshman year of high school. The title SPEAK is perfect for the story of Melinda’s struggle to find a voice after hers was ripped from her by a realistically-written teenage predator. Scenes including the Beast (as Melinda comes to call her attacker) are unsettling and terrifying.

When I started reading SPEAK, I was expecting a decent book about a relevant topic. Instead, I found a superbly-crafted piece of art I wish I was good enough to write. Events that don’t seem to move the story forward at all, such as a nerdy student standing up to a teacher, Melinda shooting free throws, and a frog dissection in science class, all beautifully depict Melinda’s struggles to understand what’s happened to her.

“I have never heard a more eloquent silence,” she says in admiration of a student who silently protests a teacher’s “racist, intolerant, and xenophobic” lesson (56-57). If only there was a way for Melinda to stand up for herself without having to tell anyone what happened. Later, she contrasts the chaotic game of high school with the enforced justice in sports, “The other team fouls you, you get to pay them back. Boom. But that’s not the way it works…” (76). Just a few pages later, Anderson gives us a peak into just how unfair Melinda’s life has been. She can’t even complete a lab assignment without seeing images of her own dissection. “Our frog lies on her back… I stand over her with my knife… David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet… She doesn’t say a word. She is already dead…” (81).

Although I struggled with the 1st person journal structure of SPEAK, I whole-heartedly recommend it for a quick, but thought-provoking read that evokes empathy in even the hardest of hearts. Of course, as a contemporary YA, it’s best suited to teens, but I think it’s a valuable read for just about anyone.

Next: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

If anyone has it lying around and is looking for a responsible book-borrower…


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