Review for “Speak”

Anderson, Laurie Halse.  Speak.  Scholastic, New York, 2003.  ISBN: 0439640105

Melinda is a high school student who doesn’t talk much.  However, she does speak, just not about what’s really troubling her.  Over the summer she and her friend Rachel had attended a party.  Something happened and Melinda called the police.  Lots of people at her school, including Rachel, now shun Melinda who looks odd.  There’s something wrong with her lips and her attitude.  People got arrested at that party for drinking underage and it’s all her fault.  If they really knew what happened to her, that the popular boy at school, Andy Evans (Rachel’s new boyfriend) was a predator, they would be able to understand why Melinda is so withdrawn.

Vardell writes, “More unfamiliar problems that are increasingly common, though not necessarily universal, are coping with divorce, dealing with drugs or alcohol abuse, and the effects of violence, abuse, aging, disease, disability and death, even the death of a child.  This expanding rand of life experiences is part of our global society in the twenty-first century.  Good literature reflects these complexities and portrays children coping with them in realistic settings; great literature weaves these elements seamlessly throughout a compelling story.”  This is how Speak works.  On one hand the story is just of being a high school student, dealing with social class issues in an institution and unfair teachers.  The issues that Melinda has due to violence effects everything she does.  But you don’t know exactly what happened to her until further in the book.  That makes the story so good.  It’s not pushing any kind of anti-violence campaign on the reader, rather, it shows how the protagonist is effected by the violence.

School Library Journal (Oct 1, 1999) reviewed this book by stating, “As the school year goes on, her grades plummet and she withdraws into herself to the point that she’s barely speaking. Her only refuge is her art class, where she learns to find ways to express some of her feelings. As her freshman year comes to an end, Melinda finally comes to terms with what happened to her-she was raped at that party by an upperclassman who is still taunting her at school. When he tries again, she finds her voice, and her classmates realize the truth. The healing process will take time, but Melinda no longer has to deal with it alone. Anderson expresses the emotions and the struggles of teenagers perfectly. Melinda’s pain is palpable, and readers will totally empathize with her. This is a compelling book, with sharp, crisp writing that draws readers in, engulfing them in the story.”  The book won the Printz Honor 2000, Golden Kit Award, ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults, Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, Booklists Top Ten First Novel of 1999, BCCB Blue Ribbon Book Award, SLJ Best Book the Year and is a 1999 National Book Award Finalist.

This is a book that can stand to be used in high schools.  I would choose some other realistic fiction such as Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes and get a few small sets.  Then I would have students read excerpts and choose which book they want to read on their own.  Those who chose the same book are their group members.  They will read the book, give a basic story plot and demonstrate what the message is for the book.  For instance, in Speak there is an anti-violence and date rape awareness that students could report on.  They would make visuals such as posters that show images (appropriate for school) about the book and its message.

I really liked this book too and I’m glad I read it.  I look forward to reading more of Anderson’s books as well as similar YA contemporary realistic fiction.  I wasn’t aware that this was even a genre and I’m so glad to learn about it.  It’s very engaging for me because I love realistic stories with a 1st person point of view over fantasy for the most part.

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