Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication Date: April 2006
Melinda Sordino is suffering from a choice she made to call 911 from a high school party - right before school starts. Ostracized by her peers and selectively mute, Melinda is entirely alone in her freshman year experience. Avoiding the issue that brought her to this fate, Melinda works to strive to create an existence for herself, living through a project in her art class in which she is challenged to express a tree as art.
I found that this book really connects with many of the aspects of young adult literatures.
Becoming one's own person: Certainly the character of Melinda goes through a transformation throughout the book. Melinda, while not mute, chooses to speak selectively, and some of her choice can be attributed to the trauma she suffered. Her art teacher, Mr. Freeman says to Melinda, "I think you have a lot to say. I'd like to hear it" (p. 123) In fact, Melinda does carry an inner monologue throughout the book including a war between Melinda One and Melinda Two, in which she describes her desire to participate but her fear based in her traumatic experience. Melinda's character even describes learning to be comfortable in her own skin, comparing herself to a burn victim, "I just need to hang on long enough for my new skin to graft." (p.125)
Coping with problems of the human condition: Melinda also deals with the repercussions of her rape. Though the actual event isn't described until the book is nearly two-thirds completed, Melinda obviously struggles with many issues related to high school and young adulthood in addition to her traumatic experience, which has colored all of her other experiences. For example, Melinda identifies herself as a "The Victim" in a performance art piece (p. 35) when her parents discover her first quarter slipping grades. Melinda deals with issues of being individual or part of the group when describing the different social groups and cliques at the school and even counters her friend Heather who believes that one must belong to something by stating that they should join a club; Melinda's response: "Nothing. The clubs are stupid. Want some popcorn?" (p.23) and Melinda recognizes Heather's enthusisam, which was formerly hers, "Have I change that much in two months? ... My goal is go home and take a nap." (p. 24) But Melinda's biggest issue, by far, is her fear of what she calls "IT", the senior boy who raped her. Throughout the text, Melinda compares herself to a rabbit, being chased by a predator. "Maybe he won't notice me if I stand still. That's how rabbits survive; they freeze in the presence of predators." (p. 97)
As much as I enjoyed the book, I would be hesitant to have younger adult readers (eighth grade or lower) read it as it discusses the rape, although not in graphic detail. I certainly would love to use this as a cross curricular discussion for all high school students perhaps using it in the freshman year and then again as a senior to discuss where they were then and where they are now.
(Young Adult)Speaking out at the "wrong" time-calling 911 from a teen drinking party-has made Melinda a social outcast; now she barely speaks at all. A conversation with her father about their failed Thanksgiving dinner goes as follows: "Dad: 'It's supposed to be soup.' / Me: / Dad: 'It tasted a bit watery, so I kept adding thickener....'/ Me: ." While Melinda's smart and savvy interior narrative slowly reveals the searing pain of that 911 night, it also nails the high-school experience cold-from "The First Ten Lies They Tell You" (number eight: "Your schedule was created with your needs in mind") to cliques and clans and the worst and best in teachers. The book is structurally divided into four marking periods, over which Melinda's grades decline severely and she loses the only friend she has left, a perky new girl she doesn't even like. Melinda's nightmare discloses itself in bits throughout the story: a frightening encounter at school ("I see IT in the hallway....IT sees me. IT smiles and winks"), an artwork that speaks pain. Melinda aches to tell her story, and well after readers have deduced the sexual assault, we feel her choking on her untold secret. By springtime, while Melinda studies germination in Biology and Hawthorne's symbolism in English, and seeds are becoming "restless" underground, her nightmare pushes itself inexorably to the surface. When her ex-best-friend starts dating the "Beast," Melinda can no longer remain silent. A physical confrontation with her attacker is dramatically charged and not entirely in keeping with the tone of the rest of the novel, but is satisfying nonetheless, as Melinda wields a shard of broken glass and finds her voice at last to scream, "No!" Melinda's distinctive narrative employs imagery that is as unexpected as it is acute: "April is humid....A warm, moldy washcloth of a month." Though her character is her own and not entirely mute like the protagonist of John Marsden's So Much to Tell You, readers familiar with both books will be impelled to compare the two girls made silent by a tragic incident. The final words of Marsden's books are echoed in those of Speak, as Melinda prepares to share her experience with a father-figure art teacher: "Me: 'Let me tell you about it.'" An uncannily funny book even as it plumbs the darkness, Speak will hold readers from first word to last. l.a.
Develop a "revisit the novel" concept in which students who are freshman read the book and then again revisit it as seniors, perhaps basing a senior theme comparing their own high school experience to the Melinda's and reflecting on the previous four years.