Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Speak

Laurie Halse Anderson
Young Adult Contemporary

Farrar, Straus & Giroux/1999

Reprint Peguin/2001/2009

From the author's website ~

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.

Freshman year in high school can be a traumatic experience. New school, new faces, new rules, new universe that is high school. When you start with a bad reputation and nearly zero friends it become even more traumatic. Some days it's all you can do to survive. Some days it take creativity and sheer guts to get through it. Melinda learns all of this and more when she experiences the repercussions of a horrible act.

Anderson grabs hold of the reader with the descriptively accurate insular world of high school. Many times I found myself agreeing with Melinda's observations and comments on life in high school. The cliques, the teachers, the rules - so much is the same. The basics of teen life haven't change much in the 20+ years since I went. It still has that small town feel to it where gossip is rampant and everyone wants to know your business.

Through Melinda's narrative we see how she is perceived and treated by everyone from her former BFF, to her teachers, to her parents. Many of the students she comes in contact with treat her as if she's a leper. There are a few that are either oblivious to what happened at the party, don't care or don't believe the rumors about Melinda. But even those few students that talk to her are not close with her. Melinda holds herself apart, afraid too much interaction could lead to the potential for making a mistake. The adults want to help but are at a loss as to how. They don't know what's wrong so they don't know what steps to take to help. Melinda's inner thoughts when dealing with the adults are at times humorous and insightful. Anderson gets you into the head of a teenager with stunning accuracy.

There were times while reading when I wanted to say to Melinda, "Be mad, be angry. You have every right to be pissed off!" But she didn't. She wasn't ready. I think how Melinda is portrayed as this teenager who continues to withdraw, continues to spend more time alone, away from the school society is very realistic. It's a coping mechanism, that withdrawal into yourself. The desperate need to find somewhere safe after you've been shown it's not safe out there. Wherever there might be.

Melinda is smart and brave and so lost. She doesn't speak because she's afraid she'll say the wrong thing so she keeps quiet. She wants to speak, she wants to respond but she can't bring herself to take that chance. One thing about Melinda that for me, showed her strength was her ability to find the good and the humor in life. Even through the rough times in school with the teasing and ridicule she does maintain this quirky sense of humor. Even when she knows someone is about to hurt her feelings she tries to justify their actions. You see her wanting sometimes so desperately to have a friend. She will do just about anything to have just one friend. It's heartbreaking what she goes through before she can Speak.

Throughout the story there is the symbolism of a tree. Melinda is assigned an art project that involves trees. As we see Melinda's progress on the art project we also see her own inner progress on what happened at the party and how she must eventually face it.

I do wish it had been longer and showed more of Melinda's relationship with her parents. There is also the dialogue which was written in a format that might prove to be a bit jarring for some readers.


Dad: "It's supposed to be soup."


Dad: "It tasted a bit watery, so I kept adding thickener. I put in some corn and peas."


Dad: [pulling wallet from his back pocket] "Call for pizza. I'll get rid of this."

It did take me some time to get used to and I can't say I prefer it but the story isn't heavy on dialogue so it wasn't much of an issue for me.

Speak deals with a serious subject and explores how one teen girl reacts and the course her life takes. I found it to be an engrossing story with a likable narrator.

Rating: B+


  1. Leslie, this book sounds so interesting. Does Melinda deal with her problem by the end of the book? I wonder...

  2. Hils ~ I'll just say it ends on a positive note. :)