Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999
Genre: Realistic/Contemporary Fiction
Reading Level/Interest Age: Grades 8-12
Anderson is a New York Times Bestselling author of several books for all ages. Speak was one of the first Michael L. Printz Award Honor books. She also had two books chosen as finalists for the National Book Award. In 2009, Anderson was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her contribution to young adult literature.
Anderson started out as a freelance reporter for newspapers and magazines. After she joined a support group for writers to get critiques on their work as well as critique the work of others. Before she wrote young adult novels, Anderson penned quite a few picture books. Now she is most known for her stark young adult books on a variety of topics including rape, bullying, eating disorders, slavery during the Revolutionary War.
Anderson lives in northern New York state with her husband and four children. Information retrieved from Laurie Halse Anderson’s website.
After Melinda is raped at a party during the summer before her freshman year, she is ostracized by the students at her school. The only way she gets through the day is by hiding out in her secret janitor’s closet while avoiding her rapist she refers to as “It.”
High school was supposed to be the beginning of a wonderful life. One night changed everything. Melinda knew she had to call the police after her experience in the woods behind the party house, but then she didn’t know what to do when they finally arrived. At that point, everyone knew what she had done. She called the police at a party full of high school students, drinking. Her perfect high school experience is now ruined. No one will talk to her. No one knows the truth about what happened that night…and no one will.
Melinda goes through the school days in a haze. The more she can skip class, the better. She has nothing to say to her classmates and they have nothing to say to her. Her plans of being invisible run into a snag because of two people. The first person is Heather. Heather is new to town and doesn’t know what happened over the summer. She is determined to make a name for herself in this new school and Melinda is coming along for the ride. The second person is Melinda’s art teacher, a man who knows that Melinda is keeping something tight inside her. Melinda hides away in her secret janitor’s closet, a pad of hall passes that keep her out of class whenever she feels the need to retreat. Melinda may be hiding from her emotions, but she is also hiding from It, the upperclassman who started this whole mess. It is still around and he had his sights set on Melinda’s old best friend now.
Speak follows Melinda’s freshman year of school, from the first day to the last day. The book is separated into four sections, one for each quarter complete with her grades.
Speak was one of the first books ever to receive the Printz Honor award. While some books focus on the actual rape experience or the police involvement, Speak deals with the aftermath as only Melinda sees it. As a reader, you want to pull aside every person in Melinda’s life and tell them what has happened to her. Melinda’s daily life after the party is so painful to observe that she want to do whatever you can to help her. Ofter there are times when she gets close to revealing her secrets, but then she shirks back. Anderson has created a palpable emotion that tears at your heart. Melinda is lost and needs to be brought back to life, but it’s so frustrating to see so many people encounter her without knowing what is happening instead. This book had to be written in first person. Nothing else could possibly convey Melinda’s story with as much feeling and understanding.
You can possibly look to this as a cautionary tale. Obviously, there was nothing Melinda could do to prevent or stop the rape, but she could have taken control of the situation after the fact. Anderson shows what happens when someone takes away your right to control you life. Melinda goes overboard controlling the small things in life like avoiding class and napping in her janitor’s closet. Every time she sees It again, she loses control once again.
- Speak would be a great classroom discussion book or a recommended Summer Reading title.
- Read Melinda’s “First 10 Lies They Tell You in High School”
- Do you have a special place where you go to get away?
- Besides your grades for school subjects, how would you rate your personality? How about your clothes?
- Controversy: Speak was challenged because of the mentions of rape.
-Anderson has a response to the challenges against Speak on her website. She says:
“I am shocked whenever anyone challenges SPEAK. This is a story about the emotional trauma suffered by a teen after a sexual assault. Throughout the entire book, she struggles with her pain, and tries to find the courage to speak up about what happened so she can get some help.
Isn’t that what we want our kids to do – reach out to us?”
Anderson’s words can be used to help defend her book.
– Familiarize yourself with the library’s policy so that you can defend the initial purchasing
– Show reviews of the book. Speak received starred reviews and won the Printz Honor.
(Information received from ALA’s Using the Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials webpage)
Why This Book?
Speak is considered one of the modern classics of Young Adult literature. Speak should be in every collection.
Anderson, L.H. (2002) Censorship and Banning: Challenges against Speak. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/teachers/censorship-book-banning/.
Anderson, L.H. (2012). Officially Long Official Biography of Laurie Halse Anderson. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/laurie/.