Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Review of 'Speak' by Laurie Halse Anderson

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"'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 no 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."

I read this book once before, but I realized that I had never actually reviewed it.  I didn't feel like I could since I read the book so long ago.

I didn't like Melinda as much this time around.  I understand why she stopped talking (at least some of the reasons), but I couldn't help but feel like some of her troubles were brought on by her.  To be perfectly clear, I am not blaming her for being at that party.  I am not implying or outright saying that she should have done more to defend herself when she was in danger.  Because there's only one person responsible for what happened to Melinda: her attacker.  I'm speaking about some of her isolation.  When she was starting high school, she refused to try new things and refused to try making new friends, only relying on her old friend.  In my experience (both when I was in 9th grade and from what I've noticed about the 9th graders I work with), this is a time of great change.  Re-evaluating friendships, getting involved in different activities, trying things out and taking on new challenges... but Melinda shows no interest in doing anything like that.  So in that respect, she was a frustrating character to me.

One thing I appreciate about this book is that it highlights the damage that can be done when you don't believe someone who says they have survived sexual violence.  That is a part of her isolation that Melinda couldn't control.  Instead of saying she was wrong, she needed someone who could show her love and acceptance and help her not get over, but to move past this point.  Too often, I think the words we say are seen as not impactful.  It's so easy to say things... not so much effort most of the time... we don't think about the weight that our words can have on another person.  But just saying the words, "I believe you," can make all the difference.  You're taking someone seriously and agreeing to actually see that person as they are and acknowledging the pain they might be feeling.  I love this book for bringing attention to this, especially with a younger audience.  One thing we're working on with my 9th graders is the importance of the words you use.  I think this would aid in that discussion.

Overall, this is a great conversation starter and any read from Laurie Halse Anderson is well worth your attention.

I give 'Speak':
Thanks for Reading!


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