Can You Speak?

Posted on May 6, 2011. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , |

After… I don’t know how long… of hearing how awesome Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is, I’ve finally read it. In one day, no less. Granted, it’s a short book, but there’s a lot of power in it that kept me turning the pages.

If you don’t know, Speak is about a ninth-grader named Melinda who takes quiet to a whole new level. The book is written completely from her point of view, so while we as the reader know what Melinda is thinking, her actual dialogue is rare. We, of course, have some insight into why Melinda doesn’t Speak, and as the story progress, the fuzzy details start to become clearer until we have an awful suspicion that we know what happened, and we’re right. Our suspicions are confirmed: Something Happened to Melinda.

If you haven’t read it, here’s your spoiler alert.

Still with me?

This is it…

Melinda, a thirteen-year-old child, was raped by a high school senior the summer before she starts ninth-grade at a party. She calls the police for help and earns the scorn of everyone there for breaking up the party. Melinda stops talking, and no one but her and IT – as she thinks of him – knows what happened. We live inside Melinda’s head as she goes through her depression. She starts skipping class, finding solitude in an abandoned janitor’s closet. Her grades suffer (all except Art), she starts cutting but then has a “What’s the point?” kind of moment, and she keeps getting into trouble. In the midst of the gloom, she has a friend who she loses, she somehow makes two more, and she finds that she’s not awful at everything. Maybe it’s these bright spots that give her the courage to Speak.

Speak is young adult fiction, and there are some people out there who will question why material that has rape scenes is made available to teenagers. First, I feel like even saying “rape scenes” is inaccurate. We’re in Melinda’s head, and she shuts down when this happens to her, so the description is far from gratuitous. As a teenager, I read my grandmother’s romance novels and was introduced to “throbbing manhood” and numerous other euphemisms for body parts, so I know gratuitous when I see (not knocking romance novels, btw).

Second, and I feel like this is the most important thing: CONTEMPORARY REALISTIC FICTION HAS TO BE JUST THAT – REALISTIC. It would be wonderful if teens didn’t have to face the issues of rape and depression, and you’re living under a rock if you think they don’t. We follow Melinda as she works through her pain, and we’re left feeling hopeful for her.

Why wouldn’t we want this feeling for teens who – Heaven forbid – may have gone through a similar situation or know someone who has?

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