Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. New York: Penguin Group, 1999. ISBN 0-14-240732-1.
The story begins on the first day of high school for Melinda Sordino. She does not have any friends and does not seem to fit in at all. The reader finds out at the end of summer Melinda attended a party with her friends and has too much to drink. She is raped by a senior Andy Evans at the party. She calls the police, but then becomes to frightened to tell the police what happened and runs home. No one knows the real reason she called the police and everyone hates her for breaking up a "great" party. Melinda used to be a happy girl with friends and now she becomes depressed and withdrawn trying to live with her secret. She cannot tell anyone what happened that night and hardly even speaks. Her grades go down in school. The only person who recognizes she has something to say is her Art teacher. Art is the only class she still has an "A". At the end of the book Melinda is cornered by her attacker for the second time, but this time she has the courage to scream and speak out about what he did.
Speak is written in first person narration. Melinda Sordino is telling you her story as a teenager would tell it. She has a very sarcastic tone and wit. All readers will empathize with the main character is going through. Melinda is very believable. The book is divided into four marking periods and you watch Melinda's grades drop during the year. Everything except Art. The marking periods are broken into journal entries. The theme of alienation resonates throughout the book. The reader feels so bad for her because she has no one to sit with or talk to. He favorite place at school is a closet under a stairwell she has created as a home for herself. Melinda stops speaking to everyone. A quote at the beginning of the book sums her feelings up best. "It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on tv about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say" (p.9). Melinda's feeling of fear is clear when her attacker Andy Evans is around. She refers to him as It or The Beast. Laurie Anderson's voice is strong when she writes what someone says as a script. Their words come after their name and a colon. It is powerful when she writer Me: and the space after her name is blank. The use of flashbacks are used throughout the plot. I found the tree she was trying to create very interesting in the story. The main character Melinda goes through a dynamic change in character by the end of the book. Melinda finds her strength towards the end of the book to spreak, similar to a tree finds its strength to endure all of the seasons from very cold to very hot temperatures and still stand strong. It is no wonder this book was a Printz honor book in 2000.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
One of the strengths of this book is the reader becomes very empathetic toward Melinda and it is difficult to put down. There does not seem to be a good place to stop reading. You want to know more and help her. I think this is a great book to open up dialog with a teenager that is suffering from depression.
The Horn Book states this is "an uncannily funny book even as it plumbs the darkness, Speak will hold readers from first word to last."
Publishers Weekly states this is "a stunning first novel... Anderson infuses the narrative with a wit that sustains the heroine through her pain and hold readers' empathy...Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired."
Michael L. Printz Honor Book
National Book Award Finalist
Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist
Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
SCBWI Golden Kite Award
New York Times Best Seller
Publishers Weekly Best Seller
ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults
ALA Quick Pick
Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
Booklist TOp Ten First Novel of 1999
BCCB Blue Ribbon Book
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Horn Book Fanfare Title