Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

September 30, 2009 Life, Reading Nook, Review 24

Title: Speak
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Published: 1999 Pages: 198
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 5/5

Speak is an incredibly powerful book about a young girl struggling with a truth she cannot possibly tell. As we crawl inside Melinda’s thirteen-year-old mind, we slowly learn the secrets that are eating her alive and the thoughts she has but cannot speak.

Extreme warning. This book struck an incredibly resonant chord with me. In many ways it was painful to read, but that’s what makes it so important. I cannot review this book as I would normally. To do that would be for me to hold my silence. If this makes you uncomfortable, please kindly skip this post. For those of you who haven’t read the book, the “Me” format comes from Melinda. Usually her “Me” entries in conversation or in her own mind are, well, silent.

The following comes from my personal writings–from high school to college. Some complete, some snippets of longer pieces. I have shared this with veryvery few people, but enough time has passed, I think. And while what happened to Melinda did not happen to me, I can certainly hear her voice. In many ways these writings are not my current voice, but they were my voice once upon a time. I haven’t looked through these journals since the last time I wrote in 2002.

Me: I want you to hear what I’m saying, not just the words that come out of my mouth. I want you to listen to me, not just assume you know then tell me what I’m speaking. I want you to hear me till I’m through, don’t just pretend to hear then tell me what to do. I want you to know the truth, for you to know how I feel, but tell me how the hell I’m supposed to tell you when you won’t just let me say what I have to say. To finish what I have to finish. I want you to understand what I am, but you can’t comprehend if you don’t try. I want you to know what’s going on, but you won’t stop pushing. Let things be the way they are, let things happen the way they do. It is simple: just stop and listen. 2.6.98

Me: I’ve lost my voice, the soul from which I cry. My desires run cold and my fears hot. Churning within me, all my emotions grow stale. But I cannot find release, I’ve lost my voice. 11.1.99

Me: …And I shout but you ignore my silent bouts. 2.2.01

Me: The years have silenced my voice. Courage I had gained was a false facade put up to barricade the fear… 9.19.02

Melinda: “There is no way they can punish me for not speaking. It isn’t fair. What do they know about me? What do they know about the inside of my head? Flashes of lightning, children crying. Caught in an avalanche, pinned by worry, squirming under the weight of doubt, guilt. Fear” (157).

Melinda: “I unlock the front door and walk straight up to my room, across the rug, and into my closet without even taking off my backpack. When I close the closet door behind me, I bury my face into the clothes on the left side of the rack, clothes that haven’t fit for years. I stuff my mouth with old fabric and scream until there are no sounds left under my skin” (162).

Melinda: “Sometimes I think high school is one long hazing activity: if you are tough enough to survive this, they’ll let you become an adult. I hope it’s worth it” (191).

How many of us hold our silence? And what does it cost us?

September 26-October 3, 2009 is Banned Books Week

Bebelplatz Memorial, Berlin

Bebelplatz, Berlin
May 10, 1933 over 20,000 books were burned in this square
(enlarge pic to see the empty shelves in memorial)

Speak is commonly banned/challenged

Laurie Halse Anderson on censorship:

“Most of the censorship I see is fear-driven. I respect that. The world is a very scary place. It is a terrifying place in which to raise children, and in particular, teenagers. It is human nature to nurture and protect children as they grow into adulthood. But censoring books that deal with difficult adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in darkness and makes them vulnerable.”

If you haven’t read Speak, please do.

24 Responses to “Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson”

  1. joanna

    Hi Trish, great post… I have some difficult stuff in my past as well and remember being shocked at how many people keep silent about things that are very important. I really believe that if more people spoke out fewer such problems would exist. It’s fear that needs to be addrsesed. I loved this book too, found it extremely powerful.

  2. Vivienne

    Trish, thank you for sharing words from your past. That must have been quite a hard decision to do.

    I really need to read this book. I bought it awhile back and was aware that it was a powerful read.

  3. Debi

    Aww Trish, thank you. I’m hugging you so hard right now! I haven’t read this book. I have it, but I’ve been a bit afraid to read it. Because I know enough about it to know it’s going to be a tough read. Because yeah, like you, I know what’s it’s like to stay silent. You’re so brave for speaking up now. While this is also something very few people know, I paid a price for my silence…a suicide attempt, followed by a week in a psychiatric hospital. I love that quote…and I agree with her completely. Thanks again, Trish…this was quite a powerful, heartfelt post. *hugs*

  4. Amanda

    Oh Trish, this was such a wonderful review. I’m so glad you allowed yourself to stray from your normal style. I just want to hug you. :) And I’m glad this earned the ellusive 5 of 5 rating. It’s a really wonderful book.

  5. Nymeth

    *hugs* I love you, Trish. I DON’T CARE IF THIS SOUNDS MUSHY. Not one bit :P

    I think feeling voiceless is unfortunately a very common thing for girls, either because they went through what Melissa went through or for other reasons. Which is why I’m SO grateful for books like this, and for brave posts such as yours.

  6. samantha.1020

    I LOVED this book too but still haven’t shared my thoughts on it. This was an amazing way to review this book so thank you for sharing. I cannot wait to read more by this author.

  7. Trisha

    I think the old adage about little girls being seen and not heard is still impressed upon us at a young age, so even when bad things happen to us, we keep silent. And half the time we believe those bad things are our fault which just reinforces the silence.

    I hope you post a link to this review for my year-long banned books challenge.

  8. softdrink

    What a powerful post…I’m glad you decided to speak now.

    Speak is a fantastic book, it’s too bad that people are scared of it.

  9. Lisa

    It sounds like the book really hit home for you. I didn’t identify quite so strongly with it, but it was still a very emotional read for me. I’m glad you read it, and rated it so highly.

  10. Veens

    I hold my silence too many times. And those quotes yours and Melinda’s spoke to me. i know I need to get this one! Thanks for the awesome post, i can say I hve never read anything more powerful than this.

    I am glad you were able to write this down… i hope you feel good.
    I still don’t think i can ever come out and do this… I dnt know if I ever will.

    Thank you for this post…

  11. Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie

    Thank you for sharing your writing with us Trish. I read your post and then thought about it and Speak for a few hours now. It’s really helped give me a new perspective. When I first read Speak I was a bit annoyed, but now understanding is easier for me to grasp. I think it has to do with knowing you through your blog – I wasn’t looking at Melinda as a person and I didn’t empathize.
    Thank you again for sharing.

  12. Terri B.

    I still want to read this book. I think I will be able to relate to the character. Thank you for sharing your journal entries; from the comments I can see that is an issue for not a few of us.

    “I want you to hear what I’m saying, not just the words that come out of my mouth. I want you to listen to me, not just assume you know then tell me what I’m speaking….”

    This really hit me hard. I few years ago I decided to “be brave” and post a piece I had written called “The Scriptwriter.” Kind of deals with some of the same issues. The Scriptwriter

  13. Melody

    Excellent post, Trish!
    I’ve heard so many great things about this book, now I can’t wait to read it after reading your opinions! :D

  14. Trish

    First–thank you to everyone for your kind, supportive, and loving words.

    *Lisa – I hope you’ll read it too!

    *Joanna – I think we all just deal with our experiences differently. Silence certainly isn’t the best way, for a long time it was the only way I knew how.

    *Vivienne – This is such a short book that it won’t take you long to read–I hope you will soon.

    *Bermuda:) Melinda is a fantastic character–I think Anderson really hit her spot on.

    *Debi – I’ve emailed you already, but again hugs back to you and for being so brave in return.

    *Amanda – Hugs back to you. I just couldn’t possibly review Speak in a normal way–this book affected me so personally that it was time to…speak.

    *Nymeth – LOL–I don’t mind mushy. Love you too. I wish silence wasn’t so common, but like you said, hopefully this book will help teenaged girls realize they can speak.

    *Samantha – I really look forward to hearing what you thought of this book. It’s interesting to see how people react to Melinda.

    *Trisha – I think feeling fault or guilt was a big part of Speak. Unfortunately so many girls think that rape is somehow their fault–just as Melinda struggles with it in the book. I’ll try to remember to link up my review.

  15. Trish

    *S. Krishna – I hope you’ll read this one soon–it was a pretty powerful book for me.

    *CJ – Thank you–it was difficult to pull out those dusty old poetry spirals, but this book evoked so many of those old emotions that I needed to.

    *Softdrink – I’ll admit that I was a little scared to read Speak–maybe more because of the YA genre as I didn’t know what it was about. I wish more adults would read this book.

    *Lisa – For me Speak was a really emotional and personal read–if I had dealt with my emotions growing up in a different way than Melinda I’m not sure I would have identified with it either.

    *Veens – It was really really scary for me to hit that “publish” button when I had shared something so personal, but you all are so supportive and loving. I hope you’ll read this one soon.

    *Joanne – As I said in my email to you, YOU’VE given me a new perspective to this book and maybe even my own way of handling silence. If we don’t speak up, how is anyone to truly understand? Thanks for the insight, Joanne.

    *Terri – Thank you so much for sharing your poem The Scriptwriter–I can absolutely relate to the “Who am I?” feeling. Sometimes it’s so hard to find yourself, isn’t it? Painful almost.

    *Melody – Yes yes, read this book. I think there are some mixed reactions to this book, but I still recommend it.

    *Bookfool – Isn’t that a gem? I didn’t mean to read this book during Banned Books Week, but I’m glad I did so that I could also share her quote.

  16. tanabata

    Oh Trish! Thanks for sharing those writings with us. Some of them resonated with me as well. Silence is revered in Japan, and sometimes I wonder about the personal sacrifice it entails.

    And what a perfect photo for Banned Books Week! I made sure we went there when we visited Berlin too. I can’t believe it’s been almost 7 years since we were there.

  17. Thoughts of Joy

    Wow. I am touched more by what you said than the book! I did read it, but it did not affect me in the same way. I’m about the only one that thought it was just okay, but after reading your thoughts and remembering the book in more detail, I know why.

    Also, I love Laurie’s comment on censorship. She projects such a sensitive, yet powerful reaction.

  18. Alice Teh

    I have this! I have this in my TBR pile and seriously need to read all the books there. That’s why I have to implement and enforce my book-buying guide… Great review, by the way!

  19. Trish

    *Tanabata – I bet Berlin has changed quite a bit since you were there 7 years ago–there is so much new growth in the city all over the place! Bebelplatz was a really quieting experience.

    *Joy – Thanks Joy–it’s been interesting in the comments to see how everyone else related to the book. And yes, what a great statement from Anderson about censorship–I was glad to have the extra material in the book.

    *Alice Teh – Since this one is so short it shouldn’t take you more than a lazy afternoon to read–I hope you’ll get to it soon!

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