Sunday 19 September 2010

Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress code will be enforced.
4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
5. Our football team will win the championship this year.
6. We expect more of you here.
7. Guidance counsellors are always available to listen.
8. Your schedule was created with your needs in mind.
9. Your locker combination is private.
10. These are the years you look back on fondly.

Melinda Sordino was an ordinary teenager, happy and popular, until the party the summer before she started high school. Now her grades are slipping, her friends shun her and she skulks through the corridors silently, just trying to get through the day without drawing attention to herself. If only she could tell someone why she really called the police that night.

Speak is a brave, important Young Adult novel that I first read when I was about Melinda's age, and it struck a chord with me. Thankfully I'd never experienced the horrors she had, but I knew how it felt to be the outcast at school, hiding behind my books and trying to persuade everyone I didn't exist. Halse Anderson captures the cliqueyness, injustice and sheer brutality of high school existance. The novel deals with a difficult subject sensitively, and despite her depression, Melinda's narration provides sarcastic humour all the way through with her biting observations about school, her teachers and fellow students, giving the staff names like Mr Neck ("A predator approaches: grey jock buzz cut, whistle around a neck thicker than his head") and Hairwoman. ("My English teacher has no face.")

Melinda finds refuge in a disused supply cupboard that she customises with a poster of Maya Angelou, who she views as a role model. The only other person she feels able to trust is her art teacher, Mr Freeman after spending her lunch times working on her art project to avoid the nightmarish cafeteria. Melinda uses her art project, "Tree" to help her understand and express her emotions through the school year, and it is Mr Freeman she confides in when finally she finds herself able to speak up.

Speak has been made into a film starring a teenage Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame as Melinda. Though it doesn't cover everything in the book, it captures the soul of the story very well and is certainly worth a watch if you can get hold of it.

I was moved to reread and review this novel after discovering that the other side of the pond a wannabe moral guardian with the improbable name of Scroggins has deemed Speak to be inappropriate reading for young people, due to its addressing a difficult subject, namely rape, and is campaigning to have it banned from school libraries. Now, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he wants to protect young people. Nonetheless, it is very worrying that he is more upset about a book in which a girl tries to cope after being raped, and eventually seeks help, than about the heartbreaking number of people across the world, across the USA, in his own state and probably among the same students he is trying to protect, who don't know how to cope or where to turn after rape. While reading people's twitter and blog comments, I discovered that many people who have been in Melinda's situation found Speak gave them the courage to speak up and seek healing for themselves. Scroggins cannot be allowed to get his way as by doing so he would send out quite the opposite message to the book and risks sending victims of sexual crime back into silence and despair. It seems that - like many who call for the banning of books - that he hasn't actually read it, as his argument is that Speak is pornographic. If he has read it, and that is his perception, I fear it speaks more about himself than the novel.


  1. The movie was almost more disturbing for me, but it was so well made. I wish it had been more popular.

  2. I've been trying to find the film online, but it doesn't seem to be available anywhere. I'm surprised I didn't know there even WAS a film as I read the book a lot.

  3. I'm so glad to hear everyone speaking out against this guy. He ended up popularizing the books he wanted banned in the first place. His loss, our gain!

  4. Thanks for Speaking Out! I love this post. :)

  5. Thank you for suppoting the stand against censorship and the awesome post.

  6. This is one of my favorite books. Laurie Halse Anderson has a beautiful writing style I'll never forget as well as an unforgettable message, to speak . This is a great post!

  7. I recently posted about Speak (in relation to the rape trials in Steubenville) and I referenced your review:

  8. I enjoyed reading your post about Speak. I recently read and reviewed this novel on my book blog. I enjoyed reading this book and felt it dealt with relevant subject matter that teens should be reading. It's difficult to imagine that young adults would not be allowed to read this book, because some adult doesn't think they should read it.


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