Speak

I found Speak on the ALA’s Ultimate YA bookshelf. It is included in the database because it is an excellent realistic fiction/issue book. Speak was a Printz Honor book for 2000 and Laurie Halse Anderson is the winner of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award for Catalyst, Fever 1793, and Speak (retrieved August 6, 2009 from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/margaretaedwards/margaretedwards.cfm).

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
ISBN-10: 014131088X ISBN-13: 9780141310886
City and Publisher: New York: Farrar Straus Giroux
Copyright Date: 1999
Author’s Website: http://www.writerlady.com/

Reader’s Annotation: After Melinda Sordino calls the cops on an end of summer party, she starts high school as a complete outcast. Even her best friend hates her but she still can’t bring herself to tell anyone the real reason why she needed the police.

Plot Summary: Melinda Sordino is outcast. She called the police to a party the summer before her freshman year and now even her best friend hates her. Her school, her life, and all the people in it are stark and ugly. Her only friend is Heather, a social climbing transfer student. If only Melinda could speak about the real reason she had to call the police, people would understand.

Critical Evaluation: Speak begins like a Charles Bukowski story told from the perspective of a suburban teenage girl. Melinda’s point of view is flat and brutal; the ugliness of the people that surround her is unmasked by her own pain. Anderson’s portrayal of someone of rarely speaks is incredibly eloquent. Each sparse sentence reveals more of a girl who has been squished by life. Speak is not a page-turner and it is not rollicking good time. Reading Speak is like peeking into someone’s brain for a while; it is fascinating, shocking and disturbing. Melinda’s gradual growth, her pruning away of inner conflict, and her final social bloom are deeply touching, both psychologically and emotionally.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 13 and up
Curriculum Ties: Speak is a great modern addition to any English curriculum. Anderson’s website includes a resource unit written for the state of Arizona which includes ideas for ties to vocabulary development, community service, presentations, and critical evaluation (retrieved August 6, 2009 from http://www.writerlady.com/LeeBrownCurrUnit.html).
Booktalking Ideas: If there are two booktalkers, pick a few of the dialogues between Melinda and another person where she stays silent. Have one person play Melinda and the other person play the other characters.

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Other Genres/Subgenres: Issues, Problem, Contemporary
Other Information: In 2004, Speak was made into a movie starring Kristen Stewart, the actress who played Bella Swan in Twilight.

Challenge Issues: Speak‘s plot pivots around the rape of a thirteen year old girl. Melinda’s silence is a result of this assault. Some parents may feel that this is an inappropriate topic for teens. It should be an inappropriate topic for teens. Unfortunately, rape and sexual violence has no age barrier. The Center for Disease Control provides a data sheet with chilling statistics: “a 2005 survey of high school students found that 10.8% of girls and 4.2% of boys from grades 9-12 were forced to have sexual intercourse at some time in their lives” and “60.4% of female and 69.2% of male victims were first raped before age 18” (Retrieved August 6th, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/SV-DataSheet-a.pdf). While it is understandable that parents want to shield their children from harm, young people are at risk, and keeping them ignorant will only increase their danger.

About the Author: Laurie Halse Anderson has written several books for young adults, in genres ranging from non-fiction to historical to contemporary. She lives in the state of New York, where she likes to garden and run marathons. (More details at http://www.writerlady.com/bioh.html)

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