Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Square Fish (Macmillan)
Release Date: October 22, 1999
Acquired Via: Library
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 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 Laurie Halse Anderson's powerful novel, an utterly believable 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 was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.
Melinda starts ninth grade as an outcast. She called the cops at a party over the summer and now none of her friends will speak to her, ignoring her on the bus and in the hall between classes. Her ex-best friend Rachel hangs out with the foreign exchange students, leaving Melinda with no one to sit with at lunch except Heather, the new girl from Ohio.
Most of Melinda’s teachers are just as cruel. Mr. Neck forces her to give an oral presentation for extra credit even though he knows she rarely speaks in class. Her English teacher, dubbed Hairwoman, assigns essay after essay on Hawthorne and symbolism. When her grades plummet, Principal Principal pulls her parents into a conference to discuss the dynamics at home. Only her art teacher, Mr. Freeman, sees Melinda’s potential. He assigns her a tree to draw for the rest of the year, and Melinda struggles to bring the artwork to life. Instead of attending classes, she would rather hang out in the janitor closet she’s decorated with books and blankets. That way no one bothers her, especially IT, the person who caused her to call the cops that night at the party to begin with.
When I attended my first week of grad school, two separate teachers recommended Speak (one for the way the opening sucks in the reader and the other for the superb flashback Laurie Halse Anderson uses in the middle of the story to show us what really happened that night of the party). I inhaled this book. The narrative style is so fresh and unique it made for a quick and easy read that I couldn’t put down. I wanted to know what happened at that party, what caused Melinda to crawl into her shell so far, and how she would ever find the courage to stumble back out. When I finished the book, I rented the movie the same day and forced my husband and son to watch it that night. (A young Kristen Stewart does a good job portraying the friendless Melinda, and Steve Zahn was perfect as the wacky art teacher). I loved the movie almost as much as the book (which hardly ever happens) although my son thought the story was slow. Which is actually true, the story is slow since you travel in the head of a depressed girl for a whole school year. Speak hits on tough issues though, and doesn’t beat around the bush, something I appreciate and loved in this story.
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