I finally got around to reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which has been sitting in my borrowed book pile for years. A friend recommended it to me and wouldn’t take it back until I’d read it. I’ve also had many a student (mostly girls, mostly struggling) tell me I should read it because it’s just about the best book ever written.
And so, in order to clear some shelf space, the time finally came. It only took a few hours to read this award winning book for young adults (the marketing term for teens), and I found myself wondering why I’d put it off so long.
Melinda Sordino is a freshman at a Syracuse high school whose friends have all given her the shaft after she called the cops and busted up an end-of-summer party. Now she’s totally alone and carrying a devastating secret. She withdraws deeper into herself, afraid to speak the truth about what happened that night.
Speak is written in a breezy and darkly humorous style that draws the reader deep into Melinda’s anguished world. It wasn’t hard to figure out her secret, but then I’m pretty familiar with kids like Melinda. In that respect, Anderson has done a great job creating the world of high school life from an outsider’s point of view.
I loved the way she used the changing seasons, which reminded me of how school feels at different points of the year when you live in a place that actually has seasons. It isn’t until spring that anyone comes back to life and so it was with Melinda.
Many times, I’ve noticed kids wandering the halls at school, crushed by burdens they shouldn’t have to bear, unable to get out and slowly being eaten alive from the inside. You see it everyday in schools, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that survival sometimes has to take precendence over schoolwork. Books like Speak remind us that many kids carry deep, dark secrets.
Art and literature are powerful things; they can save lives. I’ve had kids tell me that this book saved them, and I can see why. It’s an engaging book that offers hope and gives strength.
Yesterday, I bought a copy for my classroom.