Joelene Reviews: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino is an outcast. No one will talk to her at school. No one will eat with her during lunch breaks. No one will sit with her in class. It wasn’t always this way. Before she called the cops at a party during the summer, she had friends. Ivy, who now hangs with the artists and thespians; Jessica who moved away; Nicole who hangs out with the Jocks. And Rachel Bruin, Melinda’s best friend, who she thought would stick by her no matter what.
She’s trying to fly under the radar. Has almost completely lost the power of speech. However much it may feel that her life is spiralling out of control, though, she is going to have to find her voice before it is too late.
Speak has been out for almost seventeen years now, and is still a book that crops up on recommendation and best YA reads lists. Mostly because in 2016 Speak is as relevant as it was in 1999. In 2004 the book was adapted to a film of the same name, starring Kristen Stewart.
While Speak has conquered a slew of awards, including the Golden Kite Award and the ALA Best Books for Young Adults since its publication, it is not without its critics. Some have referred to it as ‘soft porn’ and campaigned – sometimes successfully – to have it banned in schools. It’s kind of ironic since the novel is about an issue that girls and women, more often than not, feel silenced about. The fact that the events of this novel are seen as sexual rather than criminal, and that people are campaigning against a novel that might open a dialogue on things that are too often ignored, indicates how important this book and books like it are for young readers.
Rather than a social problem novel, Speak presents as a story about Melinda who is struggling to deal with various problems in her life. Like many teens, she doesn’t have the luxury of a ready support network. Her parents are too busy fighting with each other to notice that she’s not coping. Even when they finally realise that her grades are slipping, they consider it to be due to rebellion or laziness rather than because she’s struggling.
It’s interesting to see how Melinda gains strength as time passes. While she doesn’t have people to turn to, she creates pockets of safety in the world around her. Finding an abandoned janitor’s closet at school, she turns it into a refuge. Art becomes another one. As she finds ways to reclaim herself, she begins to find people that she can trust as well. David Petrakis, the boy who fights for the freedom-to speak as much as Melinda fights to remain silent, is one of them. Her art teacher, Mr Freeman, is another.
The message in Speak is an important one. Not only for the girls this novel is aimed at, but for women too. Without preaching, it explores a world in which a teenage girl needs to find her own source of strength to overcome the obstacles in her life.
Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
Square Fish (October 22, 1999)