Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Puffin, 2001
Where I got it: I bought it from Barnes & Noble.
Melinda Sordino is a freshman in high school. She is also a pariah, an outcast for reasons which are slowly revealed through the telling of her story. Her friends abandon and revile her, leaving her to fend for herself in a new school where everyone seems to hate her. She refuses to speak, except in her own head, where we as the reader's are able to see her thoughts, observations, and fears.
Speak is very powerful and frustrating at the same time. Melinda's silence is her idea of staying safe, and readers will want her to speak, to tell her story. Unfortunately, she doesn't quite realize what happened to her at that party right away and can't tell anyone what she went through, or must go through during the course of her freshman year as a social outcast. Her grades suffer, she has no social life, and yet she continues to live day after day, just trying to get through high school without having a breakdown. And what a disturbing look at high school we're given. High school was not that bad for me—it makes me wonder how many high schools out there are actually that cliquey.
Being inside Melinda's head allows us to experience her pain, embarrassment, ennui, bitterness, cynicism, and occasionally small joys. We see all of her thoughts, including the horrifying piece-by-piece reconstruction of the party that changed her life and what exactly happened. Though she tries to block it out completely, brief images flit through her head that end up giving us a more complete story. We don't find out what happened until she admits it to herself.
I also really loved how she was working through her emotions through her art projects. Though it wasn't quite the same as speaking up, art did give her a way to cry out for help and work through some of her issues; it is her emotional outlet.
Halse Anderson's language is perfect for Melinda's story. Melinda's voice is bitingly sarcastic, and often very funny despite the seriousness of her situation. Repetition and stream of consciousness are used frequently, and with very evocative and satisfying results. It gives us a clearer picture of what Melinda is going through.
Speak is a very powerful and inspiring story of an outcast in high school that must admit first to herself and then to the rest of the world that she is a victim, and then rise above it. But as many of you know, it has recently come under fire for distressing reasons. You can read my response to that here.