Anderson, L. (1991). Speak. New York: Penguin Group, 198 pp.
Awards: A Michael L. Printz Honor Book, A Nationalist Book Award Finalist, An Edgar Allen Poe Award Finalist, A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, A New York Times Bestseller, a Publisher’s Weekly Best Seller, An ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, An ALA Quick Pick, a Horn Book Fanfare Title,
Summary: In the summer before her freshman year in high school, Melinda Sardino alienates everyone she knows by calling the police to a party where everyone is underage and under the influence of alcohol. The party is broken up and several arrests are made and everyone is furious with Melinda. What no one knows, including the police, is the actual reason Melinda called them. Something unspeakable happens to her and she places the call to get help for herself, but once the police ask the nature of her call, she’s freezes and from that point on, cannot say what really happened. The horrific incident becomes trapped inside her. She is ostracized from her friends and becomes an outcast in the world because of a misunderstanding she is unable to clear up. Melinda’s life begins to fall apart and she is incapable of stopping it. The real world is too difficult for her to face on most days and she cuts school so her grades take a dive. The only class Melinda does enjoy is her art class. Mr. Freeman, her art teacher, is the only person who seems to be able to communicate with Melinda. He pushes her to express meaning in what she does and her art project assignment becomes a means for her to understand and deal with what happened. Because her grades are low, her parents become concerned and seek help from the school counselor, but none are able to reach her. No one is able to sense how deeply troubled Melinda is. No one sees her as anxiously bites through the flesh of her lips. Her self mutilation is a way to vent the awful words she cannot say and must hold back. Melinda’s big break through comes from spontaneous writing on the walls of the girl’s bathroom. She writes a warning for other girls to stay away from “The Beast” who ruined her life. Melinda receives several responses from others who validate her feelings and she finally realizes she’s not alone. She realizes that what happened to her was not fault and she is not to blame. Finally, Melinda has the opportunity to tell friend what really happened. From this point, Melinda begins the healing process and is able to move forward with her life.
The main character, Melinda, is a well developed character. When first introduced to her, she seems very typical. She’s nervous, uncomfortable, and full of dread at the prospect of going back to school because everyone believes she is a snitch and that she ruined a big end of summer party for them all by calling the police. However, after we read more, we discover that her fears and anxieties are caused by something much more monstrous than being shunned by friends though that alone is traumatizing. Melinda feels confused and guilty and struggles to understand what happened to her. I think guilty is exactly how many girls would feel in this situation because she was initially so attracted to Andy. Because of those feelings as well as guilt from the drinking, it’s natural she might feel partly responsible though she definitely said no. I understand and believe that many girls, sadly, may be just like Melinda and something so awful secret. I think Melinda is realistically portrayed. The other characters were much less so. It’s hard to believe that Melinda’s friends “hated her” for this one act though it did ruin an awesome party. Wouldn’t they be more believable if they at least tried to talk to Melinda and see why she had done what she had done? And her parents, teachers, and counselor, did they not notice the bloody scabby lips? Was her mother not alarmed when she found her in fetal position hiding in her closet? At the very least, I felt the counselor should have been able to sense from her silence that she was holding back. Maybe the author did not feel we needed to see the depth of concern from others for Melinda because she wanted us to see feel the isolation Melinda must have felt.
Speak is well written and I can see the appeal it would have for adolescent girls. It does address concerns relevant to their lives. I would not use it as a whole group read. Instead I would prefer to use it in a small group made up of all girls. I would also keep it on my shelf and recommend it to individuals. I think Speak is appropriate for grades nine and up. I do think parents should be informed about the subject matter and give their permission as it’s very sensitive material. The thought of ape is frightening and I think reading this book could help some girls work through some of their fears. I’d like to see how they respond to Melinda and how she handles her experience. There are healthier ways to work through these kinds of trauma. I would want my students to learn a bout the resources available for rape victims and to discuss what Melinda could have done differently.