Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Published: 1999 Pages: 198
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
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
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.