I almost passed this book along without reading it, and I'm so glad I didn't! I'm not usually that taken with books written in the present tense, and I didn't realize this one was at first. I'm not sure why, but it can put me off a little and with Mt. TBR looming large, that would normally mean the book would keep getting passed over. But it fell open as I picked it up to move it to the To Be Mailed pile, and what I saw there was enough to make me sit down and read the whole thing.
This is fantastically written! The protagonist is wonderful, completely real, and fully a teenager. I wanted to cheer with her and hold her hand through her hard times. The author has captured high school with all its terrible nuances, and I felt I was reliving the experience with Melinda (except this time I didn't hate it so much!). I swear, I actually had that social studies teacher, and for the same type of class, too! The only part that didn't fit with me was naming the cliques the way she did -- in fact, it gave me a few odd flashes off Margaret Atwood when they named one the Marthas -- but then, all my schools were much too small to have enough different cliques to bother with differentiating them.
Anyway, this book about dealing with the aftermath of rape does indeed deserve all the praise it's received. It handles the subject matter without being sad or morose, and with a surprising amount of sarcastic humor. Highly recommended, even if this is not your usual sort of read.
But oh my gosh -- a normal Thanksgiving at Melinda's house sounded more like Halloween!
Divided into the four marking periods of an academic year, the novel, narrated by Melinda Sordino, begins on her first day as a high school freshman. No one will sit with Melinda on the bus. At school, students call her names and harass her; her best friends from junior high scatter to different cliques and abandon her. Yet Anderson infuses the narrative with a wit that sustains the heroine through her pain and holds readers' empathy. A girl at a school pep rally offers an explanation of the heroine's pariah status when she confronts Melinda about calling the police at a summer party, resulting in several arrests. But readers do not learn why Melinda made the call until much later: a popular senior raped her that night and, because of her trauma, she barely speaks at all. Only through her work in art class, and with the support of a compassionate teacher there, does she begin to reach out to others and eventually find her voice. Through the first-person narration, the author makes Melinda's pain palpable: "I stand in the center aisle of the auditorium, a wounded zebra in a National Geographic special." Though the symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed, it is effective. The ending, in which her attacker comes after her once more, is the only part of the plot that feels forced. But the book's overall gritty realism and Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired.
I truely believe that anyone who has, works with, teaches or comes in any sort of regular contact with teens needs to read this book! The adults in this story missed so many signs and i really think it could teach adolescents and the adults around them so much!
Most topics are not difficult for me to talk about but there are some books tha touch on personal experiences, and sometimes these are harder for me to analyze and to be objective. This is not the first book I've read that's dealt with rape yet my reaction to Speak is very different than how I felt when I read say Lovely Bones. I'm not completely sure why, but I suspect that like the narrator of Lovely, I processed it more out of body, much in the way the ghost or presence of the narrator did in that novel. Despite the violence and finality of Lovely Bones, the out of body consciousness created an emotional distance I did not have with Speak.This realistic YA novel is disturbing and sobering without gratuitous violence. Despite the humor which is good, the humor did not deflect the anxiety, didn't distract me from the protracted guilt and anguish that Mel experiences. There were times when I wanted to shake her or even worse, I wanted to slap her into her senses. I was pissed at her parents for failing to recognize the signs of depression and trauma, and then I felt guilty because I know how as a parent you can miss what others see. The bunny analogy made me want to throw up. After you've been raped there's no room for victimhood, warm fuzzies and childhood. Of course, this is my anger talking.
The novel is well-written. I think if you're not a rape survivor reading the work, you can empathize and learn for the read. If you are a survivor, I don't know how you process the read without experiencing muscle memory. When you've been violated, while you can heal and move on, I don't think you can create enough emotional distance not to be affected by the read. I don't think it's necessary or possible to debate how you're affected. I think what resonates too much for me is her shame, guilt and the circumstances: a young girl trying to be older than she is and her subsequent self-destructive behavior.
I couldn't wait for the book to be over. I felt relieved when Mel finally said she was raped. Took her longer still to actually talk about it. Any victim likely knew fifty pages in what happened, but it took over a hundred pages before Mel articulates the word rape. I didn't feel better when the book ended. I didn't feel stronger or empowered. Only glad that she got it out and I could move on to another read.
This pre-911 book of the teenage experience is a masterpiece. It is written in such a way that it takes adults back to the way they thought when they were teenagers, and it reads to teenagers the way they think. Teenagers, especially really young teens, often have experiences that they are unable to process, and that makes them unable to "Speak," about them to those who might help. This book is about a girl who has just such an "unspeakable," experience just as she is becoming a teenager, and the aftermath of her reaction to it. Every parent should read it. It is a terrific book.