Jul 24, 2009

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I know my head isn’t screwed on straight. I wan to leave, transfer, warp myself to another galaxy. I want to confess everything, hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to someone else. There is a beast in my gut, I can hear it scraping away at the inside of my ribs. Even if I dumb the memory, it will stay with me, staining me. My closet is a good thing, a quiet place that helps me hold these thoughts inside my head where no one can hear them.
Melinda Sordino has just started highschool. Because at the end of the summer she called the police during a party, none of her old friends will speak to her, and even people she doesn’t know treat her with hostility. As an outsider, Melinda watches and comments on all the highschool social rites from afar. But her loneliness isn’t the only problem. Melinda barely ever speaks, and the reason is something that happened at that party, something she’s doing her best to forget.

What can I say about Speak that hasn’t been said before? Probably nothing, I’m afraid. Yes, it is as good as you’ve all been telling me for years. Also: I know that even when I feel like I’m the last person on the planet to read a book, that's never really actually the case. So, a warning - I knew what had happened to Melinda all along, and until I read Shanra’s review, I wasn’t even aware that it was only revealed late in the book. I think it’s pretty easy to figure out from the moment Melinda mentions being terrified of “IT”, and I don’t think knowing all along ruins the reading experience. But of course there's a difference between guessing and knowing for sure, so consider this a spoilers warning just in case.

I knew Speak was dark, and that it dealt with a difficult topic. What I wasn’t expecting was that it managed to be so funny regardless. I absolutely loved Melinda’s sarcasm. Actually, I just loved her, period. Even though she remains detached from herself for most of the book, I felt really close to her.

What saddened me the most about Melinda’s story is that I can understand why she chose to remain silent about what happened to her. Not that I think she should have remained silent, of course. But her fear that she would be blamed, that no one would believe her, is not ungrounded. It’s what happens to countless girls who are sexually abused.

The main reason why she’s so afraid, why she’s even unsure if what happened to her “qualifies” as rape, is because her story doesn’t match the stranger-jumping-from-behind-the-bushes scenario our culture likes to disseminate, and which so many people believe to be the only “real” form of rape. But rape is rape, period. There are several studies that show that in most cases, the victim knows the aggressor, and yet this myth is still around. It doesn’t matter if the victim voluntarily goes somewhere with the aggressor. It doesn’t matter if they were making out. It is rape. You’d think this would go without saying, but it doesn’t. It really doesn’t.

Fortunately, Melinda realizes this over time. It takes her almost a year, but she stops feeling dirty and ashamed, she stops blaming herself, and she finds her own voice again. The ending was absolutely perfect: it ends with Melinda talking with her art teacher, and…well, I don’t want to tell you everything, but it reinforces another one of the book’s main themes: how art helps us cope even with the most dreadful things.

I’m glad Speak is so popular, and I hope it continues to be for many decades. It’s an important book.

Other Opinions:
Libri Touches
Katrina’s Reads
Bermudaonion’s Weblog
The Bluestocking Society
Book Nut
Rhinoa’s Ramblings
Mari Reads
the hidden side of a leaf
Leafing Through Life
Gimme More Books!
Book Addiction
Maw Books
Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Becky’s Book Reviews
DogEar Diary
Blogging ‘bout Books
At Home With Books
The Zen Leaf
My Year of Reading Seriously
All About {n}
It's All About Books
The Joy of Reading
The Sleepy Reader
What I feel about...

(I’m sure I must have missed a ton…please let me know if yours is one of them!)


  1. This was my first book by Anderson and I really enjoyed it. Looking forward to more. Jason bought Catalyst for me the other day!

    My review is here: http://zenleaf.blogspot.com/2009/06/speak-by-laurie-halse-anderson.html

  2. I had it figured out pretty early in the book, too. So terribly sad. And yes, so awesomely funny nevertheless!

  3. I'm glad you finally got around to reading this. Like Amanda, this was my first Anderson book. A student who absolutely hates to read (even to the point of refusing assigned passages) had picked it up. I instantly had to find myself a copy and read it that evening.

    I agree completely with your assessment - "rape" has certain connotations in society that imply strangers or "bad" people. (And of course, I know that you understand when I say "bad" people I mean simply that person lurking in the shadows). There's been some breakthrough pieces in rape and our understanding of it. (Have you seen the movie The Accused with Jodi Foster? Ouch. It still makes me cringe). I think Speak easily fits into this category.

  4. No, you cannot have the title of last person to read it. That is mine and I shall wear it with pride! I picked this one up a couple of weeks ago and I really need to read it. Fabulous review.

  5. I'm glad you had a chance to read this. I read this during middle school and it was really helpful for just the reasons you mentioned - it breaks down the idea of a "victim" that society pushes on us.

    Though I hear Anderson tries to do this in some way with all of her novels. I'm ashamed to say I've only read this one... :(

  6. My review is here:


    We chose the same paragraph to quote which isn't surprising. It carries such punch


  7. I read this a couple of months back and agree with you 100%. Great review as always.

    You can find my review here:

  8. I'm so glad that you got the chance to read this one. melinda is a wonderful character isn't she? I'm glad that this book is out there to help other women/girls that may find themselves in this situation.

  9. Amanda, CJ and Nely: Added your links! Sorry I missed them before. It was hard to search, because there were not only lots of reviews, but lots of mentions of this book.

    Jeane: She found the perfect balance between sad and funny, I think. The humour keeps the tragedy from becoming overwhelming without detracting from its seriousness.

    Christina: That's awesome that a non-reader was sucked in by it! It's been a while, but yes, I saw The Accused. Ouch indeed :(

    Scrap Girl: lol! We are never the last, even when we think we are.

    Lena: This was my first time reading her too, actually. And if that's always a concern of hers, I'm sure I'll love the rest of her work.

    Staci: I am so glad too! And yes, I just loved Melinda. John Green was saying the other day that it's thanks to Speak being so groundbreaking that YA books like his own can exist today, and now that I've read it I can see why.

  10. Even though this is almost next up on my reading list, I felt fairly safe reading your review, because I'd pretty much worked it out from everybody elses reviews ;)

    Great review, I'm really looking forward to reading it.

  11. I'm not sure what to say, except that I love you, Ana. You're simply the best.

  12. I only read the first part of your review, enough to know that you loved this book...and I've got to say you are not the last one to read this book...I am! I have it in a huge stack of books in my room. I think this will be next. :)

  13. I'm so glad you liked it, Nymeth! I hope you continue with Halse-Anderson, she really is wonderful. I suggest Wintergirls next.

  14. I haven't read this book yet... so you're not the last person..Anyway, this book sounds very interesting, I've been reading other people's reviews about it, and I've seen it on the shelves, I think I'll pick it up next time. I liked Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson.


  15. I'm glad it's so popular too :) It definitely deserves to be. Can't wait until you read Wintergirls! (because you are going to read it, right?) ;)

  16. Excellent review, as always. Have you read any of her other books? I want to read Chains.

  17. I picked this up when I was in New York and couldn't put it down. I have since read Catalyst as well which is set in the same school butisn't a follow up story. I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future as I enjoy reading how she tackles important issues. Do you think you will read more by her in the future too?

  18. Like a lot of commentors, this was my first LHA and I LOVED it. I really felt like she hit Melinda's "voice" dead on.

    My review is here:

  19. I only read until "spoilers just in case" since I don't know what happens in the book and I've been really hoping to read this one sometime. I just read another review of this book a few days ago (CJ's) and I was surprised to see that this book is 10 years old! I think for how much we've seen this around the blogosphere that speaks first to how good the book is that it's still being read and talked about and second to the bloggers who have recommended it and reviewed it and have encouraged others to read it. To me, that's cool. Since I only read half your review, I don't have much else to add. :P

  20. You are right, you are not the last person on the planet to read this. I still haven't though it has been on my radar for quite awhile. Sounds like I need to read this one sometime soon!

  21. This was such a good read wasn't it? I agree, it was pretty easy to figure out what had happened early on but it's interesting that it was actually revealed until almost the end.

    I actually wish there was a sequel to this as I'd love to see how the rest of high school was for her. I am hopeful but still, would love to see what the author envisioned.

  22. I haven't read this one yet! But I so loved Wintergirls that I have no doubt that Speak is fabulous.

  23. Well, as you've gathered by now, there are still a few of us left who have yet to read Speak. I bought it yesterday evening at our library book sale! My sixteen year old daughter will be reading it for school, then I'll get it next. Anderson is originally from my area (she went to high school in the next town), so I'll be keeping an eye out for any future visits.

  24. I know this will be good I have no doubts about that since I have NEVER heard of a bad review for it but for some reason I'm still a little hesitant to pick it up. Glad you enjoyed it though!

  25. It's crazy that I haven't even heard of this book although I can tell from your review and the other comments that it's so popular. I'll definitely have to add it to my TBR list. And you are so right in your review, it's terrible that rape isn't recognized in so many cases where it should be. It's great that there is at least one well written book out there that is conveying the truth.

  26. I still haven't read this one! But I'm dying to read your review (which I stopped reading at your warning sentence)
    So, I'm going to grab it off my shelf and start it tonight! Thanks for motivating me to finally get off my arse and tackle this book :P

  27. This sounds excellent, I need to get this on my TBR list.

  28. And here I thought I was the last person in the world to read this book. I just loved it! Thanks for the link.

  29. Hey, I gave you an award!


  30. This was such a great book. It was the first Halse Anderson book I read, and I loved it (if you can love a book that deals with such a difficult subject.)

    I read Twisted as well. Although I didn't think it was QUITE as good, it was still a great read. Wintergirls is on my list next!

  31. I've read so many great reviews on this book. I MUST pick it up. Thanks

  32. But of course there's a difference between guessing and knowing for sure

    *nods* That's exactly why I think this is a book that should be read twice. The experience doesn't diminish; it morphs, and it's a book (and topic) that deserves getting that metamorphosis experienced so it can have the full impact on the reader.

    There's a comment on a review elsewhere that points out that Speak is about far more than the effects of rape. It's also about the importance of speaking up, reaching out. As well as, as you say, art helping us cope.

    It's an important book on so, so many levels. One side never truly overpowers the other. I know that sounds weird with the focus being what it is, but I think the main themes balance each other out extremely well. *ramble*

  33. I'm glad I've this book in my pile, and reading your review has definitely helps move this book up my pile! ;)

  34. I read this book, too, and it was really great! :)


  35. With so many people saying good things about this book, how can I not put it into my wish list? Thanks for the review, Ana!

  36. I thought this book was so powerful. I also really loved Melissa and found her sarcasm amusing. It's only after I finished the book and thought about it all that the sadness hit me. I read it very quickly and pretty much in one sitting though, during a read-a-thon so maybe that's why I didn't think about it while I was reading.

  37. Bart: Yeah, same here :P But it was a wonderful read anyway!

    Debi: I love you too <3

    Heather: It's a really quick read too...you can get through it in one evening!

    Other Heather: I will! I've heard nothing but great things about Wintergirls.

    Sharry: That's another one I need to read. She seems to do no wrong.

    Chris: I definitely am!

    softdrink: Not yet. Must do something about that!

    Rhinoa: I loved your review of Catalyst. It sounds like a great one too.

    Lisa: She really did. Thanks for you link!

    Trish: I think that's very cool too! I'm glad the book has remained so popular and I hope it continues to be read and discussed.

    Terri B: No matter how much we think we are, we're never the last people to read a book :P

    Iliana: That would actually be cool. I was left with the impression that Melinda would be okay too, but it would be nice to see how she'd get on.

    Beth: Speak is fabulous, and I'm sure Wintergirls is too!

    JoAnn: What a great find! I hope both you and your daughter enjoy it.

  38. Ladytink: Don't be! It really is wonderful. And though the subject matter is heavy, it's not actually too bleak.

    Andrea: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! And yeah, it's terrible...it always feels that a rape victim is always on trial as much as the aggressor is.

    Joanne: lol, you're welcome :D I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

    Naida: I hope you enjoy it!

    Bermudaonion: I thought I was, but apparently not :P

    J.T.: Thanks again :D

    Stephanie: It was my first too, but it definitely won't be my last.

    Diane: You're welcome! I hope you enjoy it :)

    Shanra: I agree that it's about more than the consequences of rape. That's the case with Tender Morsels too, actually...they're both books about life and not merely "issue" books (as important an issue as that is), and that's what makes them so powerful and genuine.

    Melody: Glad to hear it :D

    Annie: I'm glad you enjoyed it too!

    Alice: Indeed! I really think you'll find it worth your time :)

    Joanne: Yeah, the more I thought about it, the more it hit me too.

  39. Finally found a copy on Saturday!! I don't know when I'll be able to fit it in, but at least it's on the shelf. :)

  40. Adding my voice (late, as usual): glad you liked it. And I agree: it is an important book. One that I hope my girls will read when they get a bit older. (Although, I hope they NEVER have to go through what Melinda did...)

  41. A topic close to my heart. I'll keep my eye out for this one. It's hard to make young women believe that it's not their fault, especially when they know the person...

  42. I really want to read this book and also Winter Girls. I think it might be a little too intense to give to my daughter, but I will probably save both books for her. Thanks for the great review!

  43. I loved every book I've read by Anderson. But does anyone know a way to contact her directly? I'd like to share my story with her after reading "Speak."


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