Monday, January 3, 2011
"Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson
Musings: I think I had put off reading Speak for so long because I was worried about it being overly depressing. But while Speak addresses a teenager dealing with depression and rape, it's also a book that shows how life can be rebuilt, even after trauma.
What I liked best about Speak was how realistic is is. With the exception of Melinda's rapist, the characters are multi-dimensional and neither pure good or evil. Melinda is largely ignored by the students at school, rather than actively bullied, but there are people who are willing to get to know her--when she is able to put herself out there. When Melinda's one friend in the beginning of the school year, Heather, "dumps" Melinda, she says that it's because Melinda is no fun and always depressed. And while you feel bad for Melinda to experience such rejection, you know what Heather is saying is also true. Even the teachers in the novel are well-rounded, none of them being giant insensitive jerks like you so often see in literature, but also few of them able to do much beyond the academic problems.
In creating realistic characters, Anderson exposes the way in which so much of the trauma teenagers face can be easily overlooked, leading to desperate teens who feel there is no one they can talk to. Melinda's parents are especially guilty in this regard, as they rarely give Melinda the chance to talk about what she is feeling.
Melinda's recovery comes slowly, and she experiences no "magical" cure. Best of all, there's not a new boyfriend who washes all the bad memories away. Instead, Melinda finds strength through art, awareness of what she wants, and tentative steps towards new friendships. Things aren't perfect when the book ends, but they are getting better.
My only disappointment in the novel was Melinda's dramatic confrontation with her rapist at the end. Unlike the rest of the novel, it felt fake and unbelievable, and it provides Melinda vindication in a way few rape victims will ever experience.
Melinda's voice is authentic and compelling; she can be snarky and underestimate people in a way that many people can relate to. The book is a quick read (I finished it in under two hours), and despite being nearly 12 years old, it doesn't feel dated at all.
***This book qualifies for the Back to the Classics Challenge (banned book category).