Speak [sound recording], by Laurie Halse Anderson. Read by Mandy Siegfried. New York: Random House/Listening Library, 2004. 5 CDs (72 min. each). ISBN 1400089980
Something happened at that party last summer, and Melinda still hasn't told anybody about it.
Ninth grader Melinda Sordino memorably narrates her own story, and we meet her on her first day of high school. We learn that over the preceeding summer she called the police to a party that she attended, although we do not find out the reason why she made this call until the latter half of the book. For making this call and its consequences to party-goers, her best friends have dumped her and she starts the school year completely alone. Melinda finds herself unable to speak to anyone, neither parents nor former friends, about why she made the call. There are a few bright spots in her life, however, the most notable one being her art class, which is taught by a caring teacher who encourages her to express herself. Throughout this incredibly tough year, Melinda manages to maintain a wonderfully dry sense of humor and wit.
I have met few literary characters as engaging as Melinda. She is equally capable of believably expressing sarcasm and wonderment, and everything in between. Anderson describes her emotions, from fear to moments of joy, palpably. Anderson's descriptions of Melinda's feelings while eating alone in the lunchroom, for example, are spot on for anyone who's ever experienced that kind of isolation. The plot of the novel is fairly simple, consisting of the day-to-day school and home life of Melinda; the interest of this story is in Melinda's observations and interpretations of the actions of people around her. Readers will definitely find themselves rooting for Melinda, as she goes through her cocoon phase, and then grows, slowly at first and then more bravely, gathering strength and some new information which lets her know that she is not alone in her experience, that there are others to whom she matters, and that she is indeed strong. Because I drive a lot, I listened to the unabridged audio version of Speak, read by Mandy Siegfried. I most highly recommend it. Siegfried strikes Melinda’s various tones so perfectly and naturally, that I think it adds another level of richness to the narrative. The aspect of this book which could be controversial to some is its discussion of rape. However, Melinda's rape is described much more in terms of her emotional response to it, and not in terms of the physical act itself.
HOW THIS BOOK HELPS
I feel that Speak can help teens who have survived sexual assault, by letting them know that they are not alone in their feelings and response. Hopefully, reading about Melinda's year of isolation will encourage survivors to speak up sooner rather than later, to a trusted adult or friend.
WHY I CHOSE TO READ IT
I had read rave reviews of this novel.