Picky Picks: SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

Somehow, this book has existed for 16 years and I hadn’t read it until last week. Wow. There is so much that can be said about SPEAK, so much that has already been said. So, I’m going to take a different approach to this review….here are my thoughts, in little bulleted snippets!

  • I loved that SPEAK really didn’t go overboard with issues, like so many contemporary YA’s. I think its power is in its simplicity. Melinda is just a young girl whose life feels familiar. School. Family issues. Changing friendships. Navigating high school. It’s not a book rife with catastrophe, like dead people and bombs and accidents and tragic death at a young age. Nothing exploded. No cars chased each other down a highway at night in a snowstorm. It’s one thing – one very bad thing – that puts Melinda at a loss for words. It’s one issue, and leaving so much of the book so “ordinary” allows its power to truly, well, speak!
  • Melinda’s hilarious commentary on average high school life to the reader offsets her silence to the people in her life, and makes us completely convinced that she has a LOT to say, and not just about what happened to her.
  • TBT: Anderson did a really good job capturing high school in the late nineties! Like, woah, I was back in high school. this was at once icky and hilarious and moving. It’s so important to see that we’re not alone – and that kids in high school now don’t really feel all that different from kids in high school 16 years ago, like, um, me! And still comforting to a 31 year old that, yes, I wasn’t the only person who felt that high school really sucked.
  • I got the Platinum edition of this book, which includes some Q&A with the author. She talked about her own general dislike of English class as a middle and high schooler, and I once again found some camaraderie. In response to the question, “How do you feel about your book being taught in so many middle schools, high schools, and colleges?”

Laurie Halse Anderson says”….I think the reason I didn’t like English was because I couldn’t stand the books we had to read. They were all about boring, middle-aged people a hundred years earlier. Gack. Too many kids are turned off reading by being forced to read and regurgitate books that have no connecytion to their lives. I applaud the school districts and teachers who are bold and smart enough to find literature that helps their students grow as readers, and mature into thoughtful, caring people.

Yes, yes, yes! I love words, love stories, love psychology, love reading, but I am a PICKY WORD EATER! I didn’t connect to so much of what I was required to read, even as a college English major. However, my desire to write and my intense connection with those books that have touched me fueled my fire to get through the crap assignments. The discussions that followed reading assignments was what I lived for. I wanted to know what others thought, how they were moved, what they saw that I missed. And I am so, so happy that the YA market is alive and well and finding itself not just in bookstores, but on classroom shelves as well.

  • I’m not even going to go into all of the multi-faceted issues surrounding rape in this book, because I’m sure they’ve all been explored in other online discussions. And it’s all handled so sensitively and gently in the book, you just have to read it. But the one thing that stuck out to me as incredible was Laurie Halse Anderson’s comment in the interview. She says:

“I realized that many young men are not being taught the impact that sexual assault has on a woman. They are inundated by sexual imagery in the media, and often come to the (incorrect) conclusion that having sex is not a big deal. This, no doubt, is why the numbers of sexual assaults is so high.”

I’m so glad I came across this special and graceful book. Hope you’ll check it out, too, and share it!