Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Number of Pages: 211
Genre: Realistic Fiction
I think most people are aware that Speak is a young adult novel about sexual assault. Therefore I won’t attempt to hide the fact that the book predominately features the rape of a teenage girl from people who read my review, because skirting around it would make it pretty hard to talk about the book. Naturally, I issue a trigger warning to people who don’t feel like they’re emotionally up for reading my critique.
Fourteen-year-old Melinda Sordino enters high school reviled by her classmates because she called the cops and busted an epic party. Nobody knows that the reason Melinda called the police was that she was raped by an older boy at the party, so they just think she’s a goody two-shoes bitch who won’t let her peers have any fun. Melinda withdraws into silence and self-imposed isolation as a result of her trauma, and her classmates treat her like shit because they’re entitled high schoolers who are clearly the centers of the universe. Hey, weren’t we all the centers of the universe at that age?
Melinda finds refuge in sorts in art, and offers a dry commentary on the absurdity of high school and, by extension, the absurdity of human behavior. I think people who exist on the fringes of social groups and don’t really fit in anywhere can probably relate to Melinda to some extent, even if they mercifully can’t relate to what happened to her. I enjoyed the parts of the book that were written like a movie script and the use of dark humor was surprisingly effective; I even laughed several times.
The rape scene was disturbing (obviously) but was non-graphic and sensitively handled. It actually occurred earlier in the book than I expected it to, I figured it would leave the reader to guess what happened until the last few chapters. I think having an earlier reveal probably worked better in the long run, but it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting. There honestly wasn’t much I didn’t like about this book, I don’t have any major issues with it. One minor quibble I can think of off the top of my head was that I would have liked the ending to have been lengthened a little bit and I wanted to see the change in dynamic with Melinda’s parents and their reaction when they found out what happened.
It took me a long time to get around to reading this book (I’d had it sitting on my bookshelf unread for ages) but I’m glad I finally did. I’m apprehensive about watching the film adaptation with Kristen Stewart mostly because I’ve heard she’s an absolutely dreadful actress, and I’m afraid of her ruining Melinda’s character when she was so compelling in the book. My mom bought a copy of the movie used a while back, so I guess it couldn’t hurt to watch it some time and see how it compares to the novel. In summation, I highly recommend Speak and I can certainly see why it’s now considered a classic of young adult literature.
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