06 January 2011

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The tough, tender, and darkly funny story of a teenage outcast.

Melina Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t know hate her from a distance. It’s no use explaining to her parents; they’ve never known what her life is really like. The safest place for Melina is to be alone, insider 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 admitted it and let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have no choice. Melina would have to speak the truth.
It’s reads true: “…darkly funny story of a teenage outcast.” If this were an upbeat story about something completely different, I would have greatly enjoyed Melinda’s sense of humor and wit and her imaginative mind. But combine those with her ordeal and suddenly, it sings a sinister tune. I think her wit made her real and made us more connected with her character. So, even if we can’t identify with her on a personal level, she has the type of outlook that we can imagine, and sympathize with. 

Laurie Halse Anderson writes beautiful, subtle and descriptive prose. I had a thought while reading it. That it had the air of a great speech. It said, “This is important. You should listen.” And it kept me captivated right to the very end. I found myself thinking about it while in class, but not in that “boy, this class is boring, lemme read to escape” type of way. I was actually thinking about Melinda and what she would be like to hang out with and what I would do if something like that happened to me. It was a though-provoker and an eye-opener. 

I can only imagine what the impact of this book had when it was first published in 1999. When it was published in October that year, I was only six, so I don’t know what it was like for teenagers and didn’t know how something like this would impact them. For teenagers now, I think this is something that will stick to them and make them more aware of the people they think are strange simply because they will not talk, or they called the cops on a party, or because they sit alone. It made me think about perception and how it’s different when you’re on the outside looking in. Just because the rooms look designer fresh, doesn’t mean there aren’t shadows in the closets. 

I liked the subplot with Melinda’s Art teacher. I thought it really gave him depth and overall, I liked his character and how real he seemed. He didn’t seem flat or false. While the high school social structure was cliché, I found it fitting for the story and I was never bothered by it—except when Heather was being a butthead, and Rachel, too. 

Originally, I’d given this book a 4/5 but that was because it was just so darn depressing. I always found myself under a cloud after I put it down. Then, I thought about how depression is basically the point of the book and since it had done its job, I gave it the fully-deserved mark of 5/5. 

For those of you who haven’t read it, I urge you to do so. It’s a short book, only a few pages shy of 200. It’s a remarkable story and worth the time.

It is getting harder to talk. My throat is always sore, my lips raw. When I wake up in the morning, my jaws are clenched so tight I have a headache. Sometimes my mouth relaxes around Heather, if we’re alone. Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter or freeze. What is wrong with me? It’s like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis. (p. 50)
I try to read while eating alone, but the noise gets between my eyes and the page and I can’t see through it. (p. 127)
Book Info
  • pages – Paperback, Platinum Edition, 198 
  • published – (originally) October 1999; (this edition) April 2006 
  • publisher – Puffin 
  • genre – contemporary 
  • received via – Half-Price Books 
  • rating - 5/5