Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I finally got around to reading this book. Being an English teacher has its downsides: when I assign independent reading projects, a lot of books are spoiled for me before I get to read them. This was one of them—many students read it several years ago, but I’d forgotten that I already knew the basic plot before I bought it and started reading.

Still, I’m glad I read it.

The book follows a freshman named Melinda. She’s an outcast at school because she called the police during a high-school party the summer prior, and everyone seems to hate her.

Spoilers follow.

Seriously.

If you plan to read the book, stop reading now.

So, hints are dropped (though I knew the truth because my students told me, so I’m not sure at what point a reader would actually figure it out) that Melinda was raped by a student who she first refers to as “It.” She had too much to drink at the party and was confused. Though she told him “no” at the party, he continued on, and she was too naïve to know what to do. She ended up blaming and hating herself.

Because she freaked out, she ran before the police arrived, and no one learned the truth, not the police, not her parents, not her friends. Everyone thinks she is simply a snitch.

The book follows her freshman year as she tries various coping techniques. I enjoyed how art class was woven in—the teacher assigns her the symbols of a “tree” to work with the entire year, and she uses her work on the tree project to help her reconcile her feelings.

It’s a YA read, so it’s easy and quick, and it’s an important reminder about how each of us brings baggage with us—and though we may seem like we are rebelling or acting out, there is sometimes a deeper problem about which we are too hesitant to speak.