Book cover of 1st edition
|Author||Laurie Halse Anderson|
|Publisher||Farrar Straus Giroux|
|Media type||Hardback and paperback|
|Pages||197 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|LC Class||PZ7.A54385 Sp 1999|
Speak, published in 1999, is Laurie Halse Anderson's young adult novel that tells the story of high school student Melinda Sordino. After accidentally busting an end-of-summer party due to an unnamed incident, Melinda is ostracized by her peers because she will not say why she called the police. Unable to verbalize what happened, Melinda nearly stops speaking altogether, expressing her voice through the art she produces for Mr. Freeman's class. This expression slowly helps Melinda acknowledge what happened, face her problems, and recreate her identity.
Speak is considered a problem novel, or trauma novel. Melinda's story is written in a diary format, consisting of a nonlinear plot and jumpy narrative that mimics the trauma she experienced. Additionally, Anderson employs intertextual symbolism in the narrative, incorporating fairy tale imagery, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and Maya Angelou, to further represent Melinda's trauma.
Since it was published, the novel has won several awards and has been translated into sixteen languages. The book has faced censorship for the mature content explicit in it. In 2004, Jessica Sharzer directed the film adaptation, starring Kristen Stewart as Melinda.
The summer before her freshman year of high school, Melinda Sordino meets Andy Evans at a senior party. Outside the woods, Andy rapes her. Melinda calls 911, but does not know what to say and runs home. The police come and break up the party, and some people get arrested. Melinda does not tell anyone what happened to her, and nobody asks. She starts high school at Merryweather High School as an outcast since all her old friends left her, and is shunned by her peers for calling the police. She remains silent and sinks into depression. Melinda is befriended by Heather, a new girl, who clings to Melinda only to ditch her for "the Marthas", who are the "popular" girls at Merryweather High. As Melinda's depression deepens, she begins to skip school, withdrawing from her already distant parents and other authority figures, who see her silence as means of getting "attention". She slowly befriends her lab partner, David Petrakis, who encourages her to speak up for herself.
Near the end of the book, Melinda's best friend Rachel, who was dating Andy, breaks up with him on prom night after Melinda confesses to her what happened. Realizing only one other person could've told Rachel, Andy attacks her in the abandoned janitor's closet, Melinda's "sanctuary". When word spreads about what happened and the truth about that night is revealed, the students no longer treat Melinda as an outcast but as a sort of hero instead. And finally, Melinda tells her story to her art teacher, Mr. Freeman, and the truth finally sets her free.
Speak is written for young adults and high school students. Labeled a problem novel, it centers on a weak character who gains the strength to overcome her past, through narrative events and adult guidance. The rape troubles Melinda as she struggles with wanting to repress the memory of the event, while simultaneously desiring to speak about it. Barbara Tannert-Smith calls Speak a trauma narrative. Janet Alsup specifies it as a "rape story". The novel allows readers to identify with Melinda's suffering. Lisa DeTora considers Speak a coming-of-age novel, telling Melinda's "quest to claim a voice and identity". Booklist calls Speak an empowerment novel. But, according to Chris McGee, Melinda is more than a victim. Melinda gains power from being silent as much as speaking. McGee considers Speak a confessional narrative; adults in Melinda's life constantly demand a "confession" from her. Similarly, Don Latham sees Speak as a "coming-out" story. He claims that Melinda uses both a literal and metaphorical closet to conceal and to cope with being raped.
One theme of Speak is finding one's voice. Another theme in the novel is identity. The story can also be viewed as speaking out against violence and victimization. Melinda feels guilty, even though she was a victim of sexual assault. Yet, by seeing other victims, like Rachel, Melinda is able to speak. Some see Speak as a story of recovery. According to Latham, writing/narrating her story has a therapeutic effect on Melinda, allowing her to "recreate" herself.
Post traumatic stress disorder
One interpretation of Melinda's behavior is that it is symptomatic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of her rape. Like other trauma survivors, Melinda's desire to both deny and proclaim what happened produces symptoms that both attract and deflect attention. Don Latham and Lisa DeTora both define Melinda's PTSD within the context of Judith Herman's three categories of classic PTSD symptoms: "hyperarousal", "intrusion", and "constriction". Melinda displays hyperarousal in her wariness of potential danger. Melinda will not go over to David's house after the basketball game, because she is afraid of what might happen. Intrusion is depicted in the rape's disruption of Melinda's consciousness. She tries to forget the event, but the memories keep resurfacing in her mind. Constriction is illustrated in Melinda's silence and withdrawal from society. Latham views Melinda's slow recovery as queer in its diversion from the normal treatment of trauma. Melinda's recovery comes as a result of her own efforts, without professional help. Further, DeTora notes the connection between trauma and "the unspeakable".
Point of view
Speak is a first-person, diary-like narrative. Written in the voice of Melinda Sordino, it features lists, subheadings, spaces between paragraphs and script-like dialogue. The fragmented style mimics Melinda's trauma. The choppy sentences and blank spaces on the pages relate to Melinda's fascination with Cubism. According to Chris McGee and DeTora, Anderson's writing style allows the reader to see how Melinda struggles with "producing the standard, cohesive narrative" expected in a teen novel. Melinda's distracted narrative reiterates the idea that "no one really wants to hear what you have to say". In her article, "Like Falling Up into a Storybook", Barbara Tannert-Smith says,
"In Speak, Anderson of necessity has to employ a nonlinear plot and disruptive temporality to emphasize Melinda's response to her traumatic experience: the novelist has to convey stylistically exactly how her protagonist experiences self-estrangement and a sense of shattered identity".
By disrupting the present with flashbacks of the past, Anderson further illustrates the structure of trauma. Anderson organizes the plot around the four quarters of Melinda's freshman year, starting the story in the middle of Melinda's struggle. Anderson superimposed the fragmented trauma plot-line upon this linear high school narrative, making the narrative more believable. It is one of the most inspiring books of all time. 
Symbolism and greater meaning
Throughout Speak, Anderson represents Melinda's trauma and recovery symbolically. Barbara Tannert-Smith refers to Speak as a "postmodern revisionary fairy tale" for its use of fairy tale imagery. She sees Merryweather High School as the "ideal fairy tale domain", featuring easily categorized characters—a witchy mother, a shape-shifting best friend, a beastly rapist. Mirrors, traditional fairy tale tools, signify Melinda's struggle with her shattered identity. After being raped, Melinda does not recognize herself in her reflection. Disgusted by what she sees, Melinda avoids mirrors. According to Don Latham, Melinda's aversion to her reflection illustrates acknowledgement of her fragmented identity. In fact, the only mirror Melinda can "see herself" in, is the three-way mirror in the dressing room. Rather than giving the illusion of a unified self, the three-way mirror reflects Melinda's shattered self. Likewise, Melinda is fascinated by Cubism, because it represents what is beyond the surface. Melinda uses art to express her voice. Her post-traumatic artwork illustrates her pain. The trees symbolize Melinda's growth. The walls of Melinda's closet are covered in her tree sketches, creating a metaphorical forest in which she hides from reliving her trauma. According to Don Latham, the closets in the story symbolize Melinda's queer coping strategies. Melinda uses the closet to conceal the truth.
Anderson incorporates precursor texts that parallel Melinda's experience. In the story, Melinda's English class studies Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, which features similar fairy tale imagery. Hester Prynne, an outcast protagonist like Melinda, lives in a cottage at the edge of the woods. Hester's cottage parallels Melinda's closet. For both women, the seclusion of the forest represents a space beyond social demands. The deciphering of Hawthorne's symbolism mimics the process faced by readers of Melinda's narrative. Similarly, Anderson connects Melinda's trauma to that of Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Melinda places a poster of Angelou in her closet. She admires Angelou because her novel was banned by the school board. Melinda and Angelou were both outcasts. Like Melinda, Angelou was silenced following her childhood rape.
Honors and accolades
Speak is a New York Times Best-Seller. The novel received several awards and honors, including the 2000 Golden Kite Award and the 2000 ALA Best Books For Young Adults. Speak gained critical acclaim for its portrayal of the trauma caused by rape. Barbara Tannert-Smith, author of "Like Falling Up Into a Storybook: Trauma and Intertextual Repetition in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak.", claims the story's ability to speak the reader's language brought about its commercial success. Publishers Weekly says, Speak's "overall gritty realism and Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired". Ned Vizzini, for the New York Times, calls it "different", "a grittily realistic portrait of sexual violence in high school." Author Don Latham calls Speak "painful, smart, and darkly comic".
Speak has won several awards and honors, including:
- 1999 National Book Award Finalist
- 1999 BCCB Blue Ribbon Book
- 2000 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Fiction
- 2000 Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year
- 2000 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
- 2000 Printz Honor Book
- 2000 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
- 2000 Fiction Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
- 2000 Edgar Allan Poe Best Young Adult Award Finalist
- 2001 New York Times Paperback Children's Best Seller
- 2005 New York Times Paperback Children's Best Seller
Speak's difficult subject matter has led to censorship of the novel. Speak is ranked 60th on the ALA's list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009. In September 2010, Wesley Scroggins, a professor at Missouri State University, wrote an article, "Filthy books demeaning to Republic education", in which he claimed that Speak, along with Slaughterhouse Five and Twenty Boy Summer, should be banned for "exposing children to immorality". Scroggins claimed that Speak should be "classified as soft pornography" and, therefore, removed from high school English curriculum. In its 2010-2011 bibliography, "Books Challenged or Banned", the Newsletter of Intellectual Freedom lists Speak as having been challenged in Missouri schools because of its "soft-pornography" and "glorification of drinking, cursing, and premarital sex."
But censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.
In her scholarly monograph, Laurie Halse Anderson: Speaking in Tongues, Wendy J. Glenn claims that Speak "has generated more academic response than any other novel Anderson has written." Despite hesitancy to teach a novel with "mature subject matter," English teachers are implementing Speak in the classroom as a study of literary analysis, as well as tool to teach students about sexual harassment. The novel gives students the opportunity to talk about several teen issues, including: school cliques, sex, and parental relationships. Of teaching Speak in the classroom Jackett says, "We have the opportunity as English teachers to have an enormously positive impact on students' lives. Having the courage to discuss the issues found in Speak is one way to do just that." By sharing in Melinda's struggles, students may find their own voices and learn to cope with trauma and hardships. According to Janet Alsup, teaching Speak in the classroom, can help students become more critically literate. Students may not feel comfortable talking about their own experiences, but they are willing to talk about what happens to Melinda. Elaine O'Quinn claims that books like Speak allow students to explore inner dialogue. Speak provides an outlet for students to think critically about their world.
- Tannert-Smith, Barbara (Winter 2010). "'Like Falling up into a Storybook': Trauma and Intertextual Repetition in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak". Children's Literature Association Quarterly 35 (4): p.395–414. doi:10.1353/chq.2010.0018. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- McGee, Chirs (Summer 2009). "Why Won't Melinda Just Talk about What Happened? Speak and the Confessional Voice". Children's Literature Association Quarterly 34 (2): p.172–187. doi:10.1353/chq.0.1909. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Detora, Lisa (Summer 2006). "Coming of Age in Suburbia". Modern Language Studies 36 (1): 24–35. doi:10.2307/27647879. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Latham, Don (Winter 2006). "Melinda's Closet: Trauma and the Queer Subtext of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak". Children's Literature Association Quarterly 31 (4): p.369–382. doi:10.1353/chq.2007.0006. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Glenn, Wendy (2010). Laurie Halse Anderson: Speaking in Tongues. USA: Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-8108-7282-0.
- Glenn, Wendy (2010). Laurie Halse Anderson: Speaking in Tongues. Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-8108-7282-0.
- "Speak (2003)". New York Times. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
- Alsup, Janet (October 2003). "Politicizing Young Adult Literature: Reading Anderson's Speak as a Critical Text". Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 47.2: 158–166. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
- Carton, Debbie. "Booklist Review". Booklist Online. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
- Franzak, Judith; Elizabeth Noll (May 2006). "Monstrous Acts: Problematizing Violence in Young Adult Literature". Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 49 (8): 667–668. doi:10.1598/jaal.49.8.3. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
- "Children's Best Sellers". New York Times. July 8, 2001. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- "Children's Best Sellers". New York Times. Sep 11, 2005. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- "Golden Kite Awards Recipients". Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- Manczuk, Suzanne; etc. [Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award Young Adults 2012 "Best Books for Young Adults"]. Young Adult Library Services Association. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Burns, Tom, ed. (2008). "Laurie Halse Anderson". Children's Literature Review (Gale, Cengage Learning) 138: 1–24. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- Vizzini, Ned (Nov 5, 2010). "Angels, Demons and Blockbusters". New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- "National Book Awards - 1999". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- "1999 Blue Ribbons". The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- "Horn Book Fanfare". The Horn Book Magazine. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- Bradburn, Frances; etc. "2000 Printz Award". Young Adult Library Services Association. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Manczuk, Suzanne; etc. "2000 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults". Young Adult Library Services Association. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Long, Mary; etc. "Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers". Young Adult Library Services Association. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- "Edgars Database". Mystery Writers of America. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009". American Library Association. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Scroggins, Wesley (Sep 17, 2010). "Filthy books demening to republic education". News-Leader. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Doyle, Robert (2011). "Books Challenged or Banned in 2010-2011" (PDF). Newsletter of Intellectual Freedom. p. 4. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Anderson, Laurie Halse (1999). Speak. United States: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0-14-240732-1.
- Glenn, Wendy (2010). Laurie Halse Anderson: Speaking in Tongues. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-8108-7282-0.
- Jackett, Mark (March 2007). "Something to Speak About: Addressing Sensitive Issues Through Literature". English Journal 96 (4): 102–105. doi:10.2307/30047174. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
- O'Quinn, Elaine (Fall 2001). "Between Voice And Voicelessness:Transacting Silence in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak". The ALAN Review 29 (1): 54–58. Retrieved 11 April 2012.