Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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One of the many lies they tell students in high school: “We want to hear what you have to say.”
Or at least, that is the viewpoint of Melinda Sordino, the protagonist of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Anderson’s tragic, yet inspirational first novel takes place during Melinda’s first year of high school, a setting familiar to many. While high school is a place of fond memories to some, it is also considered the worst years of one’s life by many others. Unfortunately, Melinda’s first year can be described as the latter.
The overall plot of Speak is typical of a coming of age story: a character’s isolation and insecurity eventually transform into confidence and maturity. However, this is not a negative aspect of the book. Many, including myself, find the plot line relatable. In addition, Melinda’s individual experiences are far from cliché. After a tragedy that is unknown to all but Melinda and its related person takes place at an end-of-summer party, Melinda starts her year hated by her previous friends and having difficulty in communicating. Still, the exact details of the party are never completely revealed until the end, keeping readers going. Without being able to speak up for herself, her situation only worsens, and she spends a majority of the book finding her voice, and a more charismatic side of her that was lost after the party.
Like most books in its genre, Speak also attempts to teach a moral; in this case, the theme is the importance of standing up for one’s self. Although not an innovative message, it is still a moral few books can teach without stating the fact outright. However, instead of being constantly reminded of how Melinda stood up for herself, its importance is implied through her thoughts and experiences. It also magnifies the importance of speaking up about your feelings in Melinda’s particular case, where one confession can lead you to recovery.
One aspect of the book which strikes me, along with its touching storyline, is how identifiable and well-written the characters are. Characters that interact with Melinda, such as Heather, a fashion-conscious, ambitious new student who is desperate to fit in, are everywhere in real life. Some teachers, like the politically biased social studies teacher, Mr. Neck, can also bring back memories. Most people have known that strict teacher who would constantly bring his own views into class, and even push them upon the students.
Finally, the most relatable character in Speak is Melinda herself. Although an adult author, Anderson is able to give Melinda a realistic, witty, sarcastic tone of voice that can be seen in many teenagers. For example, Melinda’s numerous nicknames for members of the school staff, such as “Hairwoman” and “Principal Principal” remind readers of their inner rebellion towards disliked teachers, and also give them a taste of Melinda’s sense of humor. Although some may find her tone dry and depressing, I find it fitting for one going through her experiences, and the sarcasm adds bits of comedy in an otherwise dark book. Many conflicts she faces are familiar to many people, such as trouble with keeping up with grades, parents, and maintaining friendships. Also, she does not have the typical self-absorbed attitude of teenage protagonists, which I find refreshing. She does not fret over her physical imperfections, and is quick to acknowledge that others, such as those in hospitals, are suffering greatly compared to her, although her own reasons are still justified. Readers feel for her when she is judged by ignorant individuals, adults and students alike. Readers cheer for her when she confronts the root of her problem, or when she stands up to a false friend who had been using her. Those who have gone through Melinda’s experiences can empathize with her even further, although I luckily have not experienced them.
Others share my view of Speak, as well. This New York Times bestseller was the recipient of several state awards, chosen as the ALA Best Book for young adults, and was a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the National Book Award. Readers themselves have repeatedly responded to Anderson about this book’s effect on them. This overwhelming response prompted the publishing of the poem, “Listen,” which can be found in certain copies of the book itself, and on Anderson’s own website. The poem takes fragments of emails Anderson received in response to Speak, some telling of the experiences of the readers themselves, showing just how much this book is able to reach out to people. However, this book also has its own share of controversy. Speak was included in ala.org’s list, entitled “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009” due to its controversial content. Although, one must read the book in order to find out the reason for its inclusion.
Overall, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is a touching story of a confused teen finding herself. It entertains through its intriguing story and entertaining characters, all while teaching a lesson vital to one’s maturity. It is a good read, whether to reach out to those suffering in school, or even adults who want to relive the tragedy and humor that went along with their high school years.
One of the many truths they tell you in high school: Reading books can be a source of entertainment-- and Speak is existing proof of it.





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KristinC This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 19, 2012 at 9:14 pm
Nicely written!  I can't wait to read this book.
 
crazygracie said...
Oct. 19, 2012 at 8:15 pm
This is great! You gave such a great summary! <3 I bet you go to a really good school ;)
 
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