Freshman year at Merryweather High is not going well for Melinda Sordino. She busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, and now her friends—and even strangers—all hate her. So she stops trying, stops talking. She retreats into her head, and all the lies and hypocrisies of high school become magnified, leaving her with no desire to talk to anyone anyway. But it’s not so comfortable in her head, either—there’s something banging around in there that she doesn’t want to think about. She can’t just go on like this forever. Eventually, she’s going to have to confront the thing she’s avoiding, the thing that happened at the party, the thing that nobody but her knows. She’s going to have to speak the truth.
Speak is a powerful book that reaches the heights of the best in the Young Adult genre. The main character, Melinda, is starting her freshman year of high school as the book opens. She is alone, even though she grew up there, all of her friends hate her. During the summer, she called the police and busted-up a party. This one act turns everyone against her and she is left to navigate through the treacherous halls of High School as an outcast. Her life starts to spiral out of control from her parents to school work until it culminates and Melinda is forced to acknowledge the truth.
Any book dealing with rape is difficult but Laurie Halse Anderson is a gifted writer who reminds us what it is to be 13. What it is to have a secret that people might not believe, that might hurt people. Speak is both beautiful and powerful. It is a must read for anyone with a teen and would be an excellent book to open a dialogue about sexual assault for parents.
Speak was made into a movie in 2004 starring Kristen Stewart as Melinda. The movie is a great compliment to the book. Laurie Halse Anderson worked on the script which made it a fairly close adaptation.
As it can happen when books focus on difficult topics, Speak has been the target of book banning since it was published in 1999. Most recently, it was targeted by Wesley Scroggins who wrote an editorial for the News-Leader in Springfield, MO. In this op-ed, he characterizes Speak as “filthy.” and suggests that the book should be banned.
Banning books that deal with difficult topics is a ridiculous prospect. A good book, just like any art form, should make you think, and sometimes that requires dealing with difficult topics but it does not make them any less valuable. Young Adult literature is a great way to get a conversation started with teens who may be uncomfortable talking about sexual assault with their parents or peers. A book like Speak, shows these young adults that they are not alone and that they should use their voices to stand up for themselves. There is great power in that.