Melinda is the Outcast. She’s alone in the world, unable to help herself. In some ways, she’s a typical teenager, but she has a secret she feels she can never speak aloud.
I’m really late to the game here, folks. SPEAK was published nearly 20 years ago and has since been made into a film. Its author, Laurie Halse Anderson, has spoken all over the world about her ground-breaking story.
“The Pilgrims gave thanks at Thanksgiving because the Native Americans saved their sorry butts from starving. I give thanks at Thanksgiving because my mother finally goes to work and my father orders pizza.”
In SPEAK, we’re gifted with a deeply troubled narrator whose dismal life at school reflects her equally dismal life at home. She has emotionally disconnected parents, vengeful peers, and dismissive teachers (for the most part). Few people speak to her at school. She speaks to no one.
“I get out of bed and take down the mirror. I put it in the back of my closet, facing the wall.”
Anderson’s taut, often clinical prose is balanced nicely with well-placed insights that turn almost lyrical in nature. It’s an effective artistic device because it allows us to see the two sides of Melinda’s brain, to which she eludes about halfway through the story.
We don’t know what trauma Melinda has endured or why, exactly, her former friends refuse to speak to her. We just know that she’s silently suffering, and although much of the book is bleak, regular beats of hope keep the reader from feeling depressed.
“The hardware store. Seven acres of unshaven men and bright-eyed women in search of the perfect screwdriver, weed killer, volcanic gas grills. Noise. Lights. Kids running down the aisle with hatchets and axes and saw blades. People fighting about the right color to paint the bathroom. No thank you.”
No SPEAK review would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room—or, in this case, IT, the Beast. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but I will say that SPEAK touches on a subject that everyone needs to think more about.
As the seasons change, Anderson manages to paint them to reflect Melinda’s inner turmoil. It’s no surprise that spring breaks the dam.
Some people don’t like somewhat ambiguous endings. I’m one of them. However, in SPEAK, it works. It doesn’t matter what happens externally because the entire story has played out in Melinda’s head. We just need to know how her state of mind has changed—for better or worse.
If you have time, please read this story. It’s essential, especially for young men, to expose themselves to this kind of literature. Pass a copy around to your friends. Talk about it. Dissect it. Understand it.
Only when we really get SPEAK can we have meaningful conversations. Thank you, Laurie Halse Anderson, for giving voices to the people who have lost them. If you’ve read my SPEAK review, thank you for taking the time.