Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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*Contains Spoilers*

I was going to say it isn’t very often that I can remember when I purchased a book, but now I think about it I am pretty good at remembering when I bought quite a few of them. Maybe it would be fairer to say it isn’t very often that I remember exactly when and where I was when I purchased books in my childhood/teenage years. However one book that certainly breaks this is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. I have vivid memories of being on a day trip to the seaside town of Weymouth (this all sounds very Victorian) with my sister, Nanna and her friend. There was all the usual seaside activities and shouting ‘step’ every time there was a pavement so the oldies didn’t trip up – how patronising – and a trip to a bookshop. I think I must have seen this book in a shop back home and been on the hunt for it ever since. Well I either bought it for myself or Nanna did and although this was over ten years ago, I still kept hold of the book obviously convinced I would one day read it again. Yesterday was the day.

Speak is told from the first person perspective of Melinda, a girl about to start her first day of high school. Despite having grown up in the town, she has no friend and doesn’t belong to, or fit in with, any high school cliques. In fact, they all hate her. Why? Well Melinda committed the ultimate crime and called the police whilst at a high school party. What no one knows is that it wasn’t because of the drinking, but because of something much more sinister and an event that has left Melinda without a voice.

Speak is a powerful read. It explores the everyday struggles of being a teenager and the difficulties of juggling friendships, different classes and teachers who just do not understand. However it also tackles something much darker than this; the horror and aftermath of rape and in particular the taboo and preconceptions of this when you are a young teenage girl and you have convinced yourself you must be to blame. Melinda feels as though she has no one to turn to and therefore says nothing, turns inwards and shuts down. It is not until page 190 that she even mentions the word ‘rape’ choosing instead to avoid any mention of what happened in an attempt to erase it from her memory. Hints are made throughout the novel and it is clear that some kind of assault has taken place but the fact Melinda can’t mention it only reinforces how harrowing and life changing this was.

Speak is an interesting and engaging piece of fiction and I certainly feel it handles the subject of rape in a sensitive and appropriate way. It puts me in mind of some articles I have taught about how teenagers shouldn’t be reading books about upsetting or difficult issues, however I feel Speak is a perfect example of why they should be encouraged to read more challenging books that explore ‘taboo’ subjects. If it encourages just one person to find their voice, how can it be a bad thing?

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