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Reviews: (by author)
Halse Anderson, Laurie. Speak. New York : Penguin Books. 1999
Speak , a one word title that in itself speaks volumes, could've just as easily been called Scream. The tension is so palpable, the dialogue and inner thoughts so real, that I kept having to remind myself that Melinda Sordino is not a real person.
Melinda catches her reflection in the window as she holds the phone to her ear. Bruised lips and streaming tear-- Who is that girl? Just about to enter high school, Melinda and her best friend Rachel are lucky to have been invited to the end of summer bash with the seniors. But Melinda has just been raped in the woods behind the party. She hears the 911 operator on the other end, but suddenly can't talk. When someone grabs the phone and slaps her, Melinda runs out, leaving her secret behind. Or at least that is what she hopes.
We live inside Melinda's head as she braves through her freshman year. Her defense mechanisms of sarcasm and wit evoke pathos and laughter as we watch her trudge through the daily pressures of high school-- who to sit with at lunch, coping with lame teachers and dealing with ridiculous parents and peer pressure-- all the while trying to keep her horrible secret.
Melinda just wants to forget about that night but no one at her upstate New York high school will stop reminding her. She sits in the first day of school assembly alone as spit wads land on her head and kids she doesn't know jeer. She turns at the eruption of laughter behind her, meeting eyes with Rachel who mouths, "I hate you." She becomes known as the loser that broke up the coolest party of the summer.
What happened at that party wasn't Melinda's fault. But, everyday she doesn't speak out, she loses another part of her self. How do you speak the unspeakable? Or as Melinda hopes, if you don't speak out about it, maybe it didn't happen.
Putting a lid on the truth causes her to completely withdraw. She communicates with her overworked and self-consumed parents through notes on the kitchen counter. When she finally does get her parents' attention after her grades plummet and she cuts classes, they only talk at her. Melinda even shuns herself. She puts the mirror in her bedroom in the back of the closet facing the wall. The feeling of hopelessness rings true for many teens.
Melinda sees a glimmer of hope when Heather, the new girl from Ohio , befriends her. Only Heather is obsessed with fitting in. She insists they make a plan to get in with the right group. Even though Melinda desperately wants to be the girl laughing and painting her toenails again, her secret locks her up. Heather tells Melinda she has no choice but to drop her so a new group of girls will accept her.
Melinda retreats to an abandoned janitor's closet where a poster of Maya Angelou talks to her. The only other voice of hope comes from eccentric art teacher Mr. Freeman who simply says, "You seem like you have a lot to say, and I'd like to hear it sometime."
Eventually, circumstances bring the truth into the open. As the sun melts the snow after the long Syracruse winter, "the tears dissolve the last block of ice on Melinda's throat."
Laurie Halse Anderson addresses the teen experience skillfully and tackles a sensitive subject with guts. She mirrors Melinda's insides in the imagery of the cold Syracuse winter, her chewed-up lips, and the tree sculpture she must create for art class. She writes passages that will haunt my heart forever: "I wash my face in the sink until there is nothing left of it, no eyes, no nose, no mouth. A slick nothing." At the same time, I was continually caught off guard by the dark humor laced throughout the story. My favorite is when she describes the over-sexed cheerleaders at the pep rally: "There are twelve of them: Jennie, Jen, Jenna, Ashley, Aubrey, Amber, Colleen, Kaitlin, Marcie, Donner, Blitzen, and Raven. Raven is the captain. Blondest of the blondes."
The chapters are short and with titles such as Fizz Ed or Lunch Doom, you don't know whether you're going to be laughing or crying. Anyone who has ever been rejected by their peers or suffered with a secret can find some healing in this book. Adults will not only enjoy the story, but will be transported back to their youths to better relate to the teens in their own lives. I truly feel this book is a modern classic that will continue to affect generations to come. I know of at least one girl who spoke out about after reading this book. Speak has done its job.
Shelley Moreno, June 2006