Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999, Penguin)

Recommended  for ages 13+

Melinda Sordino should be enjoying her freshman year of high school; instead, she finds herself ostracized because she called the police after she was raped at a party she was at over the summer. No one knows about the rape – they just know that Melinda ruined their good time.
Her best friend turns on her. Her rapist, an older student at the school, winks at her, tries to talk to her, enjoying the power he feels he has over her. Her parents attribute her withdrawl, skipping school and failing grades to a plea for attention and show no sympathy. Melinda copes by blocking much of the night’s events out and stops speaking almost entirely. One of the few people she seems to be able to speak with is her lab partner, David, a student who has no problem speaking up for himself and urges her to be more assertive. When her former best friend begins dating her rapist, Melinda knows that she must find the courage to break her silence.
Written in the first person, Speak is told from Melinda’s point of view. The reader gets her sense of isolation as she goes through the motions of day-to-day living, haunted by her rape but not quite dealing with it. It’s on the periphery of her memory, but she tries to move past it on her own rather than relive it. The most developed character we encounter is Melinda, but it isn’t an issue – she’s the person we need to know best; we know whatever she needs us to know about the other people around her. She has a scathing wit that endears her to the reader and shows a glimpse of the pre-assault Melinda. Readers may know someone who has been assaulted, have been assaulted themselves, or need to understand what happens in the aftermath of an assault, and Speak is a book that should be read by teens, parents, and educators alike to facilitate conversations. The 10th Anniversary edition of the book includes a list of resources for sexual assault survivors, a discussion guide, and the author’s comments about censorship and on Speak ten years later.
Speak has received numerous awards  and accolades. It was a National Book Award Finalist (1999); received the Golden Kite Award for Fiction from the Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)  (2000); Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year (2000); American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults (2000);  Printz Honor Book (2000); Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2000); Fiction QUick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (2000); and was a New York Times Paperback Children’s Best Seller (2001, 2005).
Author Laurie Halse Anderson writes realistic fiction for teens. Her website offers links to her blog, media, She also provides book club information for teachers and students interested in discussing her books event information, in addition to advice on addressing book challenges, research, and the writing process. She has a discussion board where teachers can collaborate and talk with the author. She also has a Facebook page.

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