Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson


Grad school is back in session for Holiday Term. That month break really revitalized me and got me excited to finish strong. Of course, how can you not be excited when the two classes you are taking over H Term are TV Sitcoms and Adolescent Literature. Yeah...I'm getting credit for reading books and watching TV over the holidays. School is awesome.

No, actually, both classes have already proven themselves to be fascinating in depth looks into entertainment forms that speak volumes. And, speaking of speaking, the first book we read for my Adolescent Lit course (we're doing one per week!) was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

I know this will probably be shocking to some of you Speak fans out there, but I had never read this book before. Actually, I'm pretty sure I hadn't even heard of it. I knew nothing about it and went in completely blind. This is so rare for me, seeing as most books I read I pick up because I've heard something about them. Reading Speak this way was a great reminder of the value of just opening a book and starting, not knowing anything or having any preconceived notions or expectations to taint your experience.

For those of you who, like me, may also be unfamiliar with the book, I'll do a quick run down. Melinda is a high school freshman who had a traumatic experience at a party just before school started. It changed her and she now lives with the burden of her secret every day. She is afraid to tell anyone what happened to her. "Speak" is such an appropriate title because, as the book progresses, it becomes clear that speaking up is the most important and the most frightening thing she could do. In the mean time, she speaks through her hands in art class. 

Anderson's writing is beautiful and haunting. She captures Melinda's emotion so well, without being too overt. She weaves simple symbolism and telling moments throughout the book. Melinda's struggle is particularly evident in her inability to continue relationships with family or friends or to complete what used to be routine tasks. She cannot shake the memory of that night and she sees it in everything around her. The impact and presence of that memory makes itself clear over and over in Melinda’s daily life. She is unable to function normally and simple things overwhelm her.
Her daily life is changed and stalled because of that one memory she cannot escape.

The reality of the situation is, this is not a book about rape, assault, or sexual abuse, though it may seem that way on the surface. It's a book about depression. Anderson pinpoints so many key factors and telltale signs in Melinda. 

Of course, with such a heavy topic, Speak has faced a number of censors over the years. At the end of the edition I read, Anderson had a beautiful afterward about why censorship can be counter-productive. It was the best few paragraphs I have ever read about the topic. I couldn't find it online, but here is an article about Anderson and censorship in which she shares many of the same sentiments. The basic gist is this: "Censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody...It leaves kids in darkness and makes them vulnerable." 

Speak is an important book to share with adolescents. We cannot always know which students may be facing a life altering struggle as Melinda was or which students will before long. All we can do is equip them with the knowledge of how to deal with situations, the courage to speak up, and the understanding that listening to their own emotions and to the needs of others is important. Anderson's book is a great tool for that purpose.

If you haven't read Speak, I would definitely encourage you to do so, even if you are long past your adolescent years. It's not an easy book. Watching Melinda struggle is heartbreaking and painful and there are moments you just want to hug her or grab her and make her tell someone about her experience. Hopefully, though, you'll see the book as I did, as a reminder to be more aware of those around me and what they may be facing in their own life.

Pages: 208
Date Completed: November 13, 2014

1 comment:

  1. It's cool that you went in not knowing what happened - with the way she reveals the story it probably works better - I already had heard the plot before I read it.