There’s more than one reason to like Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson’s portrayal of an isolated teenager. Maybe you’ll like the book’s first-person narrator for her witty observations on high school culture. Or maybe you’ll appreciate and relate to her struggle to express herself and find community, despite a neglectful home life and school population that is hostile to her. If you’re stuck reading from the AP reading list, this is a pretty cause-y and engaging choice.
What it's about
What’s eating Melinda Sordino?
For one, everybody at school is mad at her. Over the summer she went to a big party and ended up calling the cops, getting a lot of her friends and classmates into trouble for drinking underage.
In middle school, Melinda was popular and a good student. Now in her freshman year, her grades have slipped and her friends have peaced out. The only companion she finds quickly abandons her to join a clique.
Her parents aren’t any help. Their only way of communication with Melinda is through Post-It notes written on their way out to work.
That’s all pretty bad. But there seems to be something else going on with Miranda and she won’t open up about it.
As her depression worsens, Melinda stops talking entirely, and she becomes increasingly disconnected. She begins to skip school, withdraws from her parents, and loses all of her drive. She hides away in an abandoned janitor's closet during the school day, where she goes to sleep or hides when she is feeling anxious. Her only solace is art class, where a kind teacher encourages her to express herself.
The truth about Melinda’s depression comes out when Melinda’s former best friend, Rachel, begins dating Andy, a popular senior: at the party over the summer, Melinda met Andy for the first time. Later in the evening, Andy took her to a secluded part of the woods and sexually assaulted her. Melinda didn’t tell anyone about the incident.
Though she and Rachel are no longer friendly, Melinda feels it’s her duty to tell her about the rape. The response is predictably hostile, but eventually Rachel acknowledges the truth and dumps Andy. That’s when things begin to change for Melinda.
Your favorite part will be
When Andy and Melinda meet near the end of the book, Andy attempts to take advantage of her again. Melinda fights back and finally breaks her silence. After seeing Melinda broken and scared for most of the book, it is inspiring to see her stand up for herself.
The Cause-y Angles
Melinda’s saving grace is her art class, which teaches her to speak without using words. In many schools, art classes provide similar relief from the demands of core subjects and allows for creativity.
Violence against women
Andy’s attack is just one of the estimated 88,000 sexual assaults that happen in the United States every year. Melinda has the courage to stand up to him and not let it happen again.
Melinda was drunk at the party when Andy assaulted her. Would she have been better able to resist if she were in full control of her mind?
While sexual abuse is a major theme in the book, Melinda’s depression is equally crippling. Melinda’s depression prevents her from speaking out about what happened to her over the summer and from reaching out to others.