Book Review: Speak
Published By: Square Fish/Macmillan
Publication Date: 1999
Page Count: 224
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Genre: Young Adult - Realistic Fiction
“It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.”
As soon as I read the opening lines of Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel, Speak, I knew the narrator (Melinda) and I would be fast friends. My mom made me dress up, like DRESS UP dress up, for the first day of school until I was a junior or senior. And even now as a teacher, the first day of school still makes me feel slightly ill. Melinda is funny too, with a sarcastic wit and a perspective on the absurdities of high school that I only wish I’d had at that age.
But Melinda is also entering her freshman year of high school without a friend in sight. Over the summer she called the cops to break up a party, labeling her a goody-goody, a nark, and persona non grata at Merryweather High. Which helps to explain the undercurrent of bitterness in her witty observations, and why she doesn’t speak. To anyone, pretty much ever. Her mutism seems to be something she’s chosen, but as the book progresses it becomes harder and harder for her to physically get the words up and out of her throat. Even when on the verge of being in trouble (again) for getting lost in the new school building, she cannot bring herself to speak up: “It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.”
Speak is a powerful book about the high school experience, dealing with trauma, and individual power. It truly does speak to everyone no matter their gender or their age. I started the book with my classes this week and kids who hate to read (and I mean HATE to read, as in asking me with all seriousness, “Ms. B, can’t you write me up so I can go sit in in-school suspension instead?” on our independent reading days) arrived early to class on the second day, begging to get some more reading time. Boys love it and girls love it. Gang members love it and prom queens love it. Adults love it and teens love it.
Anderson’s writing style has a lot to do with the novel’s wide appeal. She focuses on character development much, MUCH more than on action (a student once said to me, “Nothing actually happens in this book.”). So if you’re an action-packed plot lover, this book might not be for you. But if you love getting into a characters head, experiencing what they experience, feeling what they feel, and really getting to know them on a deeper level, this is your book. It’s the difference between having a ton of acquaintances or having a few really close friends. By the end of the book Melinda is one of those close friends.
Final Word: A must-read novel that you will fall in love with. Anderson writes with emotional honesty, an insightful wit, and a love for her characters that draws her readers into the story and make them laugh out loud, cry, and throw things in the same page. READ IT. NOW.
Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.