Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a Young Adult novel about a girl who becomes the school outcast after her call to the police leads to the busting up of a large party and the arrest of many teens for underage drinking. The story takes place over the course of Melinda’s horrific freshman year of high school where most people aren’t talking to her, and she is not speaking to anyone else. Along the way, the reader gets clues that Melinda is hiding a secret, one that might explain her actions on that fateful night of the party. While she keeps that secret to herself, her grades suffer, her relationships deteriorate and she struggles to fight off depression.
Before you start thinking this is another melodramatic story about a brooding teenager, let me assure you, Speak can be incredibly funny. Told in the first person, Melinda’s sarcastic voice and spot-on observations of high school life made me chuckle. Flipping open to a random page, I read, “Nothing good ever happens at lunch. The cafeteria is a giant sound stage where they film daily segments of Teenage Humiliation Rituals. And it smells gross.” Who can’t relate to that? I spent three years of high school reading in the choir room during lunch!
While this book deals with some mature themes, the author handles them in a subtle and appropriate manor. The teens in the story are realistic, not overly perfect. I think most teens would be able to identify with at least one character and see their friends in others.
The writing of this book has a strong literary quality. Speak was a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award and won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from the American Library Association.
Overall I give Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson…
Literary merit – 4 bookmarks
Plot – 2 ½ bookmarks (Lots of foreshadowing made ending predictable)
Voice/Tone – 4 ½ bookmarks
Character development – 3 bookmarks
Age appropriateness – 4 ½ bookmarks
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Vanessa Marano (Melinda)