Friday, June 4, 2010

Book Review: Speak

I'm back from my surgery/recuperation hiatus, although still definitely not recouperated entirely.  I have a lot of ideas to write about, but thought I would begin today with another book review.  Another great book by Laurie Halse Anderson...Speak, like Wintergirls,  is one which touches close to home as it is, unfortunately, true to life for many teens.

Melinda Sordino begins her first day as a high-school freshman as a social outcast.  Her best friends from junior high have deserted her, and no one wants to have anything to do with her.  During a summer party, Melinda gets drunk, along with all of the other kids, and is raped by a popular high school "jock."  She calls 911, but is so traumatized that even when the police get there, she can't "speak" to them about what happened.  In fact, she doesn't tell anyone, even her parents, so all of her friends figure she called the police just to break up the party.  Consequently, they turn against her for ruining the party and their good time.

Not only does Melinda not tell anyone about the rape, but she withdraws into herself so much that she barely speaks to anyone for any reason.  She skips classes, doesn't do assignments, and in general becomes totally estranged from her world and everyone in it.  The only person with whom she has any interaction or rapport at all is Mr. Freeman, her art teacher.  Although he doesn't know what has happened, he is astute enough to realize that she has been traumatized in some way...something that her parents seem to have no clue about.  Through Mr. Freeman, Melinda struggles within herself to express in her art all of her deeply repressed feelings.

When the boy who raped her accosts her again, she finds enough physical and emotional strength to fight him off, to scream and say NO! This new-found strength helps her to become whole again, and the book ends with her sitting down with her art teacher, and saying:  Let me tell you about it.

It is not until almost the end of the book that readers know for sure that Melinda has been raped at the summer party, but there are clues throughout which make the reader believe that this is what happened.  For most of the story, the senior is not seen or heard, but then one day in the hallway, Melinda sees him and is frightend all over again: "I see IT in the hallway...IT sees me.  IT smiles and winks."  And when her former best friend begins dating this boy, Melinda feels that somehow she must find her voice and speak out.

Personally, I thought the part where the boy tries to rape her again a little contrived.  This is supposedly what gives her the strength to tell him NO, and then to talk to her art teacher.  But she has already decided that she must tell someone what happened to her when she finds out that her best friend is dating this boy, so why isn't that enough to make her "speak out?"  Hmm...just my opinion.

Anderson does a beautiful job, once again, of finding the innermost secret pains of today's teens and writing about them with honesty, poignancy, and compelling realism.  Teen readers will empathize with Melinda, and adults will cringe at the cruelty that kids heap upon one another.  No matter what, this is a powerfully written book that no one will want to put down.

Read it, and let me know what you think.