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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I don't remember the last time I stayed awake more than an hour past my bedtime to finish a book. I also don't remember the last book that made me cry. But Speak did both.

Wow, what a wonderful book. Young adult novels often are so powerful because they present difficult situations that teenagers might encounter or identify with, and Speak is predominantly about depression, ostracism, and sexual assault. Melinda starts out 9th grade at Merryweather High with no friends. In fact, everyone hates her. A few weeks earlier she had been to a end-of-summer party with her best friends and she called the cops. Not only was the party ruined, but several people were arrested. No one knows why Melinda did it, but they know it was her and it was supremely bitchy of her to do it.

The first week of school, Melinda does meet Heather, a new student, who is her only friend. At home, her parents don't really get along, her mother works way too hard at an unrewarding job, and they don't really seem to notice Melinda, except when the school calls about her failing grades. The only redeeming thing at school is her art class. The least redeemable thing is when she sees the senior boy from the party. Him.

Melinda withdraws. She speaks as little as possible without shutting up completely. Her former friends, even ones she'd had for years, shun her. She finds a safe place at school, she finds solace in her art project, and she simply works to get through the school year. Will she find her voice? Will she tell anyone what happened? Will they believe her? Will it change anything? Will she ever feel safe again?

Melinda is a strong, resiliant character. With little to no support from anyone outside of herself, she gets through a horrific incident that no one should have to endure. It's dreadful that no one stands up for her, no one recognizes her severe depression (they think she's just going through usual teenage angst), no one helps her, but that does happen to some people going through horrible things like this. And Melinda does show that one can get through trauma by oneself, if one has to.

Her pain was palpable and real. The high school environment felt very true. This book is a powerful and honest story that has been helpful to hundreds of teens over the years. My edition of the book had additional information from the author about teens that have contacted her over the year to say how much the book meant to them, and information about how to get help for sexual assault. I know that a lot of teens, especially ones who feel alone or hurt, turn to books for help and healing, and I am so glad Laurie Halse Anderson's book is there for them.

I read this book for Banned Books Week. It is sad that people want to hide teenagers from anything related to sex, particularly when it's all around them, and they need to know what to be prepared for and what could happen. Yes, sexual assault won't happen to most teens, but they will at least know someone who it happens to, and it's best to be understanding and prepared.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

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