35. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
In junior high, I picked up the book Speak but put it down after reading the first page. The strong nudge to shut the book seemed random at the time. However, later I learned that this novel contained heavy and dark material. Someone recently gave me this novel once again after it was left in a lost-and-found. After maturing and dealing with many struggles, I read this book and learned a great deal from it. Although more triggering than other materials I have reviewed, Speak seemed to be an important book to address today.
Synopsis: School is the worst in Melinda Sordino’s opinion. Well, home is not much better, but at least there she can hide in her room and not deal with ex-friends ignoring her, teachers scolding, and IT bumping into her unexpectedly. After a traumatic incident at a party, Melinda called the police. Now everyone hates her, and she feels similarly. Thus, each day passes with her silence pushing others away while the secret of what really happened at the party eats away at Melinda. Will she ever find her voice again?
Recovery Pluses: Melinda might seem like a normal angsty teenager at first. Quickly, however, the reader realizes that this poor girl is suffering deeply from what happened at the party. Though the outlook seems bleak at times, her life begins to change as Melinda finds her voice and finally the strength to be honest. For anyone who has been abused or feared speaking up, this book is a powerful inspiration. Recovering from PTSD is not easy. However, Melinda finds hope after nearly giving up on life.
This book also can help parents who have children struggling with trauma or abuse. As a little girl, I did not know who to turn to with my pain. Melinda fears expressing her thoughts to anyone. Even opening up her mouth seems to painful. If caregivers can read warning signs, they can better help those hurting. The raw honesty of this novel makes it educational for those who have not dealt with a similar experience.
Other common positive young adult elements can be found such as true friendship, finding one’s voice, the helpful (or destructive) role of parents and teachers, honesty, and standing up for what is right. Although the novel has a pessamistic view most of the time, the end shines a bit of hope into Melinda’s life. Difficulty remains but she will survive and become stronger than previously.
Cautions: As mentioned before, Speak addresses dark issues such as abuse, depression, trouble in school, and PTSD. For the most part, these issues are alluded to in a raw but painful way. However, some places are a bit more explicit. Thus, teenagers would probably be able to read and process through this book. However, the novel is not appropriate for younger children because of the intense content.
Finding Speak again turned out to be a blessing. Ever since I put down that book, I wondered about it. Years ago, the novel would have scarred me especially since I had not dealt with my own past. Reading it now helped me to understand my own situation and that of others I had met in treatment. Abuse is an ugly monster that ruins your life and tears out the innocence of the person hurt. However, hope remains as victims find their voice and speak out just like Melinda.