Thursday, August 23, 2012

Speak: I'll Listen...

By Laurie Halse Anderson
Hardback, 198 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 1999
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

The first ten lies they tell you in high school

"Speak up for yourself - we want to know what you have to say." From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows that this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In this powerful novel, an utterly believeable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself. 

Speak is a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.

Pricky's Review
4 Heartfelt Stars on Goodreads

It has been HIGHLY unusual for me to be reading so much contemporary/chick-lit fiction. Typically, I'm all about the paranormal fantasy I've been pleasantly surprised that I've liked what I've read so far: Story of a Girl and How to Save a Life. Although I may need to take a break from such emotional themes...

I love the uniqueness and creativity in which Speak is written. Anderson took a difficult and sensitive topic and was able to balance it with the humor of high school life. There's "Mr. Neck" the teacher, "Principal Principal," and "Hairwoman." Each section is also divided not by "chapters" on a new page but by "headings" that continue until the final "Report Card" at the end of each "marking period." In this way, Melinda's voice really carries you through to the end.

And it's this voice that goes right to your heart. As a rape victim, Melinda's cynicism, sarcasm, fear, hurt, pain, sadness are all evidenced in her experience. In how she now views her world and how she copes to survive. What she can say and what she can't. And the consequences of both.

Principal Principal: "Melinda. Last year you were a straight-B student, no behavioral problem, few absences. But the reports I've been getting...well, what can we say?"

Mother: "That's the point, she won't say anything! I can't get a word out of her. She's mute."


Mother: "She's jerking us around to get attention."

Me: [inside my head] Would you listen? Would you believe me? Fat chance.

As a parent, it is always particularly hard for me to watch how some parental characters treat their children. I'm somewhat sensitive to this because I never ever want to become the characters that I read about: how Melinda's parents think they know the reason for their daughter's behavior. I wonder what the parents could have done differently. And so at the end, I did have a wish for a better resolution with her parents: Would they have acted differently if they had known what happened? And if Melinda had a closer relationship with them, would she have spoken sooner? However, given the parent's behavior, as a teenager, I wouldn't have talked to them either.

The only other part that I thought was a bit unrealistic and somewhat uncomfortable was when the male teacher offered a ride to Melinda. Could this have happened in 'real life?' I'm just not sure. But aside from that minor "hmm...not sure about that" moment and the previous parental non-resolution, I very much enjoyed Speak. My favorite quote of the book is: "You can't speak up for your right to be silent. That's letting the bad guys win." I highly recommend this for both parents and young adult readers alike. Definitely one for your to-read list.

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