Author Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Teaser/Reader Annotation Melinda's near-mute status makes life difficult for her and everyone around her. She must overcome the terrible experience of her near past if she is to move on and face the world again.
Plot Summary Speak is about a high school girl named Melinda who, upon entering high school, stops speaking. It is later revealed to readers that this is because a high school boy named Andy raped her at a party she and a friend attended. Ostracized at school for reporting the party for under-aged drinking, as well as struggling with her unreported rape, Melinda slips into a depression. She begins skipping school, though she finds some solace in her art class. Still, she continues to withdraw, but upon hearing that her best friend is dating Andy, she informs her of the rape. Andy confronts Melinda and nearly rapes her again, but she breaks a mirror and presses a piece of glass to his throat, stopping him. Her screaming brings the lacrosse team to her aid, and her story is revealed to the entire school. Though she has failed all of her classes but art, her status changes from pariah to hero among the student body. Her art teacher encourages her to express herself and tell her story to help Melinda move past her rape.
Critical Evaluation This novel's first-person narration was both poignant and touching, bringing out the emotions of each situation. The remarkable details help the reader connect to the issue at hand and the thoughts and feelings Melinda is processing through. It is hard for an author to create a character like this that still feels real, not forced, but Anderson did a good job in this area. The emotional scars and reactions feel natural, not artificial. While Speak is a story focusing on the the class outcast, Anderson did not follow the traditional take on this common young adult theme; there is an original look and background to what makes her story and its protagonist different. This is a book for all teens to read teaching about victimization. It encourages readers to look beyond the front presented to the world, and instead, determine the truth to the situation at hand. Beyond this, it drives home important themes for high school readers – cruelty and peer pressure.
About the Author Laurie Halse Anderson was born Laurie Beth Halse (October 23, 1961) in Potsdam, New York. She writes both for both children and young adult audiences and has won numerous awards for a variety of novels. In January of 2009, Anderson was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her three novels Catalyst, Fever 1793, and Speak.
Anderson began her career as a freelance journalist but has moved into the author field. Her most famous novel, Speak, won several awards and was a The New York Times best seller. It was adapted into a film in 2004 with Twilight star Kristin Stewar playing the part of Melinda. Her book Catalyst was set in the same high school as Speak and featured familiar characters from the first novel, though it was not considered a sequel. She has also written several historical fiction young adult books.
Primary Genre Realistic Fiction
Secondary Genre Issues
Curriculum Ties English
Anderson does not reveal what happened until later on in the novel. Was this an effective technique?
Discuss cliques and stereotypes prevalent in high school. Do you think these are fair representations of the students?
Reading Level/Interest Age Grade 8+
Challenge Issues Rape, Under-aged Drinking
1) Become familiar with book and its content.
2) Refer to library's collection policies.
3) Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Amazon, and Barnes & Nobles.
4) Get reviews from teenagers who are familiar with the book.
5) Refer to the ALA Library Bill of Rights.
Why is it included? Speak is considered one of the must-read young adult novels.