Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2003. Speak. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 0439640105.

Plot Summary:
Speak follows Melinda Sordino, an incoming high school freshman who is dealing with more than the usual high school drama. At a party before school starts, her whole life changes. She spends the rest of the year dealing with the aftermath and trying to avoid it until she finally speaks the truth.

Critical Analysis:
Melinda is a character that everyone can root for and identify with. She is trying to find her place in high school, and at the same time dealing with the transition from sexual assault victim to survivor. Readers who have spent one day in high school can relate with the cliques and the struggle to find where you belong in the place called high school. While, this book is about Melinda and her life including parties, home, and school it is really set in Merryweather High School and the state of mind that comes along with being a high school student. Merryweather is no different than any other high school, but unfortunately Melinda is experiencing extra difficulties. Anderson provides just enough details for the reader to get the high school experience all over again without overloading them with unneeded information.

Melinda is a young sexual assault survivor who keeps the truth bottled up inside of her. She is attempting to forget about what happened to her by not talking or thinking about it, but her attacker is everywhere. Your heart constantly aches for Melinda as she is faced with the disapproval from her peers who have no idea what she is going through. Finally, after suffering too long in silence, she tells her secret.

Speak is written to be relatable to young adults. The target audience is listed at 12-17 but I think it is geared more toward readers with some exposure to high school. Those who have attended high school will find the setting and characters to be authentic and believable. As you turn page after page and delve deeper into what Melinda is going through, it becomes clear that the overall message seems to be that growing up is tough but don’t give up; you’ve got so much in front of you.

I love this book. Have I mentioned that I LOVEEEEE this book? Prior to being in education, I did a lot of philanthropic work for teen dating violence and sexual assault awareness so Speak has long been a favorite of mine. Edgy topics and tough subjects have been making more of an appearance in young adult literature in recent years and Speak definitely fits that bill. Despite the heavy nature of the book, it is genuinely enjoyed by its target audience. The author does an excellent job of portraying the gravity of the situation without being too graphic. If you’re interested in a potentially emotional read, you may want to give this book a chance.

Review Excerpts:
Printz Honor Book
National Book Award Finalist
Edgar Allen Poe Award Finalist
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Booklist Editor’s Choice
Horn Book Honor List Winner
SLJ Best Book of the Year winner.

“Anderson perfectly captures the harsh conformity of high-school cliques and one teen’s struggle to find acceptance from her peers. Melinda’s sarcastic wit, honesty, and courage make her a memorable character whose ultimate triumph will inspire and empower readers.” –Booklist

Speak would lend itself well to some sort of read aloud lesson because of the way the text is divided into events like Halloween and sometimes parts about specific groups like the cheerleaders. This book was made into an independent film with the same name in 2004 starring Kristen Stewart. Since this book tackles stuff tough issues I think it is an essential read all high school students. Some schools participate in activities called common reading experiences (sometimes called shared reading experiences) where specific cohorts of students will all read something at the same time and have a shared common experience. I think this book would be an ideal fit for all incoming high school freshman to read together perhaps in the summer before school starts. There could then be some break out discussion activities at freshman orientation.


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