“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson


asteriaiconWhen I worked at the book store, there were a number of titles we just couldn’t keep on the shelves. As soon as a copy would come in, it would be out the door. This was one of those titles. The cover seemed rather simplistic, nothing that screamed “Read Me”, yet it was immensely popular, mostly among teens. When I saw it at my favorite used book store, I thought I would give it a try. It had a little seal embossed in it saying it was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist, which intrigued me more.

Melinda is a young woman starting her grade 9 year of high school, yet she is a pariah. No one will talk to her, and the only interaction she really gets is dirty looks in the halls. No one will sit with her. She is just generally avoided, unless to be made fun of. Even her best friend hates her. She begins to withdraw from her family and her teachers, going so far as to stop speaking altogether. It takes a while for the story within the story to come out. Melinda attended an end of summer party, one that was broken up when the police showed up. Everyone knows that Melinda called the police, but no one knows why. They think it was just because they were all having fun, so they all hate her for it. But no one knows the truth; Melinda didn’t tell anyone. Melinda was raped, and not just by any guy, but by her best friends boyfriend.

The book is dark and sad. But depression is dark and sad. It is isolating. Melinda starts to hate going to school, her cynicism is palpable. It is painful to see her struggle so hard, and to disappear into herself so much. She just loses all sense of caring about anything.

I don’t remember Melinda’s appearance to ever really be discussed. No description of her hair and her pretty face, her cute jeans or sweet shoes. To me that sent a powerful message regarding rape culture, and one of the reasons why I think this book is so important for women, teens perhaps especially. It doesn’t matter what someone looks like, what they wear, how they act, anyone can be raped, and it is not okay. Too often we blame the victim in these scenarios, that they asked for it, that they are just feeling sorry for themselves, and we tend to dismiss them, that what they say can’t possibly be true. And too often the victims sink into themselves rather than seek help; after all we don’t believe them anyway. The book demonstrated just how important it is to come forward, to speak, to stand up for yourself and say this is not okay.

The book is pretty thin, but powerful. I loved Melinda. I loved the smart writing, how raw and real Melinda was. The depression was almost its own character, and I think it is important for people to see. I was surprised that the book was written in 1999, yet is still so incredibly relevant. Not a lot of books can really say that. I now can see why this was one of most popular teen books. It is an important read, not just for teens, but for every woman.

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