I just finished the young adult novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was a powerful portrayal of a girl’s struggle to make sense of her world after being raped the previous summer by a senior at the school she now attends. The narrator, Melinda Sordino is bright, sarcastic, and alone. Her silence exaggerates that “aloneness” in an environment that expects you to conform with somebody – anybody in order to survive. The fact Sordino tells no one about the rape adds to her isolation.
Anderson’s book is a powerful read for several reasons. First of all, her subject matter is worthy of discussion. In a world where so many kids don’t really feel they can go to their parents, it is helpful for teenagers to read about characters who much cope with difficult circumstances. Melinda chooses to deal with her rape alone. She doesn’t open up to her counselor, any teacher, her friends, or her parents. This makes it hard for others to figure out how to help her. Her journey as she deals with the aftermath of the rape is similar to anyone who has had to deal with this topic in their lives. Had Melinda let somebody know of the event, she might have healed more quickly, but it wouldn’t have allowed the reader to see inside the mind of a rape victim as clearly.
Additionally, the protagonist is a mirror for any young person who has experienced alienation by their peers. Social status in high school is so important to so many. Being an outcast becomes the source of insecurity that makes learning almost impossible for some. Melinda never aligns with any group. Instead she further isolates by creating her own space in a janitor’s closet. Her refusal to speak continues to create a barrier between her and and the rest of the school.
Not only does the book take on the issue of being an outcast, but it also serves as a cautionary tale to those who think attending a party with alcohol is no big deal, that nothing bad can happen. Finally, the portrayal of Merryweather High is an honest representation of so many typical high schools across the country. Anderson’s portrayal of the issue of rape is dealt with tastefully in that she does not go into specific details about the event. Instead, she focuses on the aftermath of such an act on the victim. More important, Melinda is a survivor. She doesn’t remain a victim providing hope to any reader who may have similar experiences.
I would definitely recommend this book to any young adult who has had to deal with issues such as rape or abuse, to any young adult who has dealt with alienation at school, and to any teacher who may worked with abused young people. This poetic language this author uses truly create some vivid, powerful imagery. Melinda’s nicknames and descriptions of teachers are memorable. This is an excellent book, and I truly enjoyed the read.