Monday, October 14, 2013

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

SpeakIt is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache. 

"Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country."

I really enjoyed Speak. It's a compelling and moving novel. I can't believe I hadn't read it before. The book is pretty short and a quick read in terms of length, but let me tell you, it's a hard book. It's really depressing, because Melinda is just so depressed throughout the novel. She's basically just shut down in an attempt to forget what happened to her, rather than trying to speak about it, or move past it, or explain to her former friends why exactly she called the police. I was a bit frustrated by this, and sometimes it was hard to relate to the way she acted, but I really have no idea how someone in Melinda's situation would feel. This novel is an attempt to explain both that, and why certain people act the way they do. 

I have to say though, that I'm in high school right now, and the high school Melinda goes to is nothing like mine. There may be cliques, but in general people are actually pretty nice, at least to me. People may not be all that intelligent, but most of them don't go out of their way to be viciously mean. And there's nothing like the Martha club, a group that purports to do good, but is actually competitive, vicious, and really nasty. I don't know if high schools like this actually exist, but the portrayal was very alien to me. In fact, it's the way books like this portray high school that made me super nervous before I started. But that's another story. 

The way Anderson writes is amazing, and she's not afraid to tackle a tough topic and direct it towards teens. Melinda's reaction is probably not what most people do, but it is the most extreme, and ultimately the most dangerous way: just shutting down, and refusing to speak. But, God, the book sad. The way Melinda didn't care about anything anymore, the way her parents didn't seem to notice that something was seriously wrong with her. You can tell by her voice that she's actually really smart, observant, and bitingly witty, but she's failing her classes, and all her parents can do is be mad at her, rather than stopping to wonder why their daughter is doing so badly. This was really frustrating too. Also, the way Rachel, Melinda's former best friend, completely shuts her out without bothering to talk to her didn't seem very realistic. After going through so much together in middle school, Rachel just hates Melinda without hearing her side of the story first? That was an element of the book that was a bit odd to me.

Some people have tried to ban Speak, and that just makes me furious. Yes, it talks about a difficult topic (rape), but it's something that needs to be talked about. You can't just ignore it and hope that things will get better, because they won't. I'm not saying Speak is going to change the world or anything (although some of Anderson's readers have writen to her about how she saved their lives), but I am saying that it's part of the battle. Also, I just hate it when people think teenagers are too stupid to be able to analyze something, that just because a book talks about rape, it will be seen as a book advocating rape. And that's just ridiculous. Anyone who has the mental capability to read Speak will certainly have the analytical capability of taking away from the book, if nothing else, that rape is bad and hurtful and just plain awful (although I would hope that most people knew that already. The sad thing is some people don't). Plus, the scene isn't actually graphic. At all. Here's one of the threads with people responding to the guy who wanted to ban the book. Go check it out. There were a lot of great responses. 

Anyway, Speak doesn't take that long to read, but it's a difficult book to read because of its subject matter. I would definitely recommend it though, and it was really moving, especially Melinda's slow regeneration process through art and other things, like a tree growing out of a small seed of hope. 

198 pages. 

Rating: ****

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