6: Speak

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the Fall 2013 VPL book sale.

Read in April/May 2014.

View all my reviews

I picked this up because it was one of those books I’d heard mentioned a lot, but I’d never read it. I wasn’t really sure what it was about—mostly what I’d heard was a lot of compliments without any specifics. So I wasn’t spoiled going in, but I quickly realized there was a Thing and what that Thing was. (I think it was supposed to be a dramatic reveal, but it seemed obvious to me. Perhaps because I am an Old.)

Melinda has just started ninth grade and she doesn’t speak. Well, she does, but as little as possible. No one speaks to her, except the new kid who doesn’t know any better. Melinda is Outcast.

I liked the opening and I have to admit being a bit disappointed when I realized Melinda was being shunned because of this thing she did and not just because. To be clear, the school isn’t shunning her because of the Thing (which no one knows about) but because of something she did in response to the Thing.

There were lots of things I liked about Speak. I liked the narrative voice, and the way the book was structured. The story is quite funny despite the dark subject matter. I totally bought Melinda’s closing down and not telling anyone what happened. Classic introvert response to trauma.

I also thought the characterization of the teachers was really good. Somehow it managed to capture both the kid’s-eye view of them (Melinda’s) and what they were really like at the same time. It made me think about how when you’re a kid you never really think of teachers as real people, having lives and problems of their own. (Teachers: magical robots who are switched on at 9 and shut down at 3. haha.)

VPL Fall Book SaleI’m surprised a bigger deal wasn’t made of what is apparently an abrupt and radical shift in Melinda’s personality. I guess it’s supposed to be somewhat lost/covered for by starting high school, her parents’ workaholism and marital issues, the incident that led to everyone hating her, etc. But still. You’d think at least one person would have questioned it (beyond “oh, she’s just being a teenager”).

My main criticism: I had a hard time buying that none of the other students knew what happened, that there were no rumors making the rounds. It did make for a more dramatic catharsis, but… this is high school. There is nothing, nothing that a high schooler loves more than drama. Even if no one witnessed what happened (questionable), I find it hard to believe IT wouldn’t have told a friend or two who told a friend or two and so on and so on. Because he’s THAT GUY. Or if not that, just that people didn’t notice the weirdness between them (he goes out of his way to provoke her) and start speculating why. Especially given his existing reputation that comes into play later in the book. Given that, how did no one put 2+2 together?

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