Sunday, July 8, 2007


Anderson, Laurie Halse. (1999). Speak. New York: Puffin. ISBN 0142407321.

Melinda Sordino begins the semester as the school outcast. Someone found out she was the one who called the cops who came to break up the end of the summer party three weeks ago. No one will talk to her. Not even her best friends. In fact, her circle of friends has broken and migrated one at a time to other groups. The only person who speaks to her is Heather, a new girl from Ohio.

Melinda feels so changed from who she was just a few months ago. Back when she was bubbly and active in school. Back when the roses plastered all over her room were a reflection of who she was. Back when life was more than just darkness and silence.

Her new friend Heather is so fresh. So lively. So everything that Melinda used to be but no longer is. Melinda can’t explain what has happened to shatter her old self, but she implies that it might have something to do with someone she calls “IT.”

I see IT in the hallway. IT goes to Merryweather. IT is walking with Aubrey Cheerleader. IT is my nightmare and I can’t wake up. IT sees me. IT smiles and winks. Good thing my lips are stitched together or I’d throw up.

Melinda’s grades are slipping. She has no friends. She has no hope. The only thing she has is this lame art project Mr. Freeman gave her. She has to create the perfect tree. But try as she might, she can’t find the medium she needs to get done what should be an easy project. The tree is just as messed up as she is.

Melinda spends her time in an abandoned closet she found while roaming the halls. To make it her own, she puts up a poster of Maya Angelou over the mirror.

Slowly things are getting better. Ivy is talking to her again because she’s in Melinda’s art class. And through this dumb tree assignment, Melinda is finding ways to express the nothing she feels inside. But she passes out while dissecting a frog and as she does, we get yet another hint as to what has changed her:

Our frog lies on her back. Waiting for a prince to come and princessify her with a smooch? I stand over her with my knife. Ms. Keen’s voice fades to a mosquito whine. My throat closes off. It is hard to breathe. I put out my hand to steady myself against the table. David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet. I have to slice open her belly. She doesn’t say a word. She is already dead. A scream starts in my gut—I can feel the cut, smell the dirt, leaves in my hair.

Then, IT shows up again, whispering the word “Freshmeat” in Melinda’s ear.

I can smell him over the noise of the metal shop and I drop my poster and the masking tape and I want to throw up and I can smell him and I run and he remembers and he knows. He whispers in my ear.

We know. Well, I know.

And we learn his name:

Siohban: “It’s him. Andy Evans just walked in. I think he’s looking for you Em.”

I turn around. They are talking about IT. Andy. Andy Evans. Short stabby name…. It feels like the Prince of Darkenss has swept his cloak over the table. The lights dim. I shiver.

Suddenly, Heather gives up on trying to break Melinda out of her shell and tells her that she doesn’t want to be friends with her anymore and that she needs professional help because Melinda is “the most depressed person” she’s ever met. She tells Melinda that she can’t eat lunch with her anymore.

The principal calls Melinda’s parents in for a conference about her grades and her class-cutting. She gets in-school suspension. Guess who’s there? Yep. Andy. Instead of feeling sick, she feels anger.

I want to kill him.

Melinda has to watch her ex-best friend, Rachel and Andy Evans becoming an item and she can’t even warn him. She can feel changes happening inside her. Making the tree has awakened a beast. Heather comes over to ask for her help, but Melinda kicks her out of her room. Then the next day, she decides to finally do what she can to repair her friendship with Rachel. She starts talking about Andy and because the librarian shhh-es them, they start to pass notes.

Are you still mad at me? I write.

No, I guess not. It was a long time ago…The party was a little wild… But it was dumb to call the cops…We could have just left.

I didn’t call the cops to break up the party… I called…them because some guy raped me. Under the trees. I didn’t know what to do… I was stupid and drunk and didn’t know what was happening and then he hurt… raped me. When the police came, everyone was screaming, and I was just too scared, so I cut through some back yards and just walked home.
Oh my God, I am so sorry…Why didn’t you tell me?

I couldn’t tell anybody.


…Andy Evans.

But Rachel gets up, calls Melinda a sick and jealous liar. But Ivy shows Melinda a bathroom stall where many girls with different handwriting have written warnings about Andy Evans.

Finally, Melinda feels some healing. It’s the end of the year and she wants to go back to her closet to retrieve her Maya Angelou poster but gets trapped in there by Andy Evans. He tells her she has a big mouth. When she tries to leave, he locks the door and attacks her, trying to rape her again. But this time is different. She is different. She speaks. A loud, resounding NO “explodes” from her. She breaks the mirror behind the poster and holds a shard of it to Andy Evans’ neck. Someone heard her NO and pounds on the locked door. The entire lacrosse team is there. Witnesses. And help.

The semester over, the tree finished, Melinda healed and now powerful has found her voice again.


I would love to go on and on about the writing of this book, but the content is so overwhelmingly intense that it is hard to see past it to the mechanics. All I know is that every detail in this book seemed real. Every person, every smell, every color, every sound, every emotion. I don’t know how she did it exactly, but Laurie Halse Anderson did that. She made it real. This could have been just another Disney-ized, Lifetime movie (isn’t it ironic that they made a Lifetime movie out of this book?) account of a date rape, but it is so much more than that. She made it a nightmare. A year long walking nightmare in someone’s life. It’s an account of how just a thin line, a split-second evil, can change someone’s life so completely. How it can turn them into someone new. Someone broken. It has nothing to do with being a girl and being overpowered by a male—there are other ways of raping people—it is about invasion. About breaking trust. Crossing a line.

I hate it when people call books like this a “problem” novel. As though putting it into that category makes it somehow cliché like those books that come in series about different problems, all having nearly identical covers. You know the ones. Yeah, rape is a problem and so hard to define and explain. It seems like every person you meet has a different idea of where the line is. Where it goes from playing-hard-to-get to an invasion.

This happened to me over and over. All my life. From an early age, I trusted because I wanted desperately to be loved. And in my bad luck, I stumbled upon creeps who took advantage of my “father hunger” and pushed the limits physically. The one time I told—I spoke—I got a letter from the authorities saying that they had investigated and had “found no credible evidence of abuse.”

By the time I was a teenager, I figured it was something in my wiring. That I had and was bringing it upon myself. That it was somehow my destiny. That, and I didn’t know any other way to feel love. So, I let myself be used. I knew I should, but I never said no. What was the point? After years of letting myself be used so that I could feel just one moment of someone wanting me, even if it was just my body—even though after nearly every encounter, I cried myself to sleep—I finally realized that it wasn’t me. That I was a big girl now. That I was worthy of love for other reasons.

This book called back so many of my adolescent emotions. Not of high school—I was home schooled. Not of friends—I never really liked girls that much, they seemed to get on my nerves. But of the invasion. Of the silence. The darkness. The loneliness. I’m so glad that Laurie Halse Anderson wrote this book. To show the darkness, the abyss that exists and the sunlight and healing on the other side. Just the fact that healing can happen and that empowerment is ours for the taking.

Reviews for Speak (via

From Publishers Weekly
In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager. ...Through the first-person narration, the author makes Melinda's pain palpable: "I stand in the center aisle of the auditorium, a wounded zebra in a National Geographic special." Though the symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed, it is effective. The ending, in which her attacker comes after her once more, is the only part of the plot that feels forced. But the book's overall gritty realism and Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired. Ages 12-up.

From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up-This powerful novel deals with a difficult yet important topic-rape. ...Anderson expresses the emotions and the struggles of teenagers perfectly. Melinda's pain is palpable, and readers will totally empathize with her. This is a compelling book, with sharp, crisp writing that draws readers in, engulfing them in the story.

A frightening and sobering look at the cruelty and viciousness that pervade much of contemporary high school life, as real as today's headlines. ...The plot is gripping and the characters are powerfully drawn, but it is its raw and unvarnished look at the dynamics of the high school experience that makes this a novel that will be hard for readers to forget. (Fiction. 12+)

Having broken up an end-of-summer party by calling the police, high-school freshman Melinda Sordino begins the school year as a social outcast. She's the only person who knows the real reason behind her call: she was raped at the party by Andy Evans, a popular senior at her school. Slowly, with the help of an eccentric and understanding art teacher, she begins to recover from the trauma, only to find Andy threatening her again. Melinda's voice is distinct, unusual, and very real as she recounts her past and present experiences in bitterly ironic, occasionally even amusing vignettes. In her YA fiction debut, 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.

National Book Award Finalist
ALA Quick Pick
Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist
SCBWI Golden Kite Award
ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
Printz Honor Book
Siver Book Award Nominee

No comments: