Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Recently I decided that there are some books that I want to re-read. Books from high school that I had to read for school and didn't appreciate, books that I might have been too young to appreciate the first time I read them, books that mean more now that I'm older, and some just because they are good books and deserve to be read again. Speak is one of those books. I definitely understood it when I first read it sometime in my high school years, probably around 07-ish. But it had a bigger impact on me this time. I have known people who have been raped; I've been in situations where I was uncomfortable with a guy but didn't know what to say or do. Rape is a topic that is talked about in hushed tones and sparks a lot of controversy. It always seems to come back to if the girl (or guy) was "asking for it" because of what they were wearing or where they were. I am of the belief that it is always, 100% wrong. No one asks for it. This book does a brilliant job of saying just that, and I love Laurie Halse Anderson for writing it out so beautifully so that people who haven't been through it can understand the pain the victim feels a little better and so that people who have experienced it can know that they are not alone in what has happened to them or what they felt.
Before Melinda Sordino started her freshman year, she attended a party. She was having a great time until Andy Evans raped her. Melinda did what anyone in that situation should do, she called the cops. However, she didn't tell anyone what happened. The cops busted the party, kids got in trouble, and Melinda went back to her house and hid herself away. Now no one wants to be friends with Melinda; she's a snitch. She also doesn't exactly want to be friends with anyone either. Melinda retreats into herself, skipping classes, letting her grades drop, and hides in an old broom closet.
At the beginning of the year, she makes friends with Heather, a new girl who doesn't know anyone or know that Melinda busted a party. But Heather wants to do things, join clubs, and Melinda isn't that girl anymore. Heather feels that Melinda is just too depressing to hang out with, and has probably heard the rumors, and tells her that she can't be Melinda's friend anymore.
It doesn't help that Melinda's parents are always arguing. At one point in the book, Melinda says that she wishes that they had just gotten divorced so they could all move on with their lives; she says if she had never been born, her parents would have gotten a divorce already, but now they have to fake it until she turns 18. They treat her bad grades as a reason to fight with each other more, and instead of asking why, they get mad at her. Her mom is very work oriented and leaves Thanksgiving to manage the store; her dad is the more relaxed of the two. At one point, it is alluded to they might each be having affairs.
Melinda's one escape is her Art class. At the beginning of the year, her teacher, Mr. Freeman gives the class an assignment. They draw a word and that is the thing they will be drawing for the rest of the year. Melinda's word: tree. In this class, Melinda has a lot of her breakthroughs in this class and when interacting with Mr. Freeman and a girl in the class, Ivy Hall.
When Melinda learns that her old friend, Rachel, is dating Andy, Melinda starts to worry for her friends safety, but she doesn't know how to tell her. Melinda and Ivy write on the bathroom wall "Guys to Stay Away From Andy Evans" and it is soon filled with other girls comments: "He's a creep." "He's a bastard." On and on talking about how horrible he is. During a period in the library, Melinda sits down next to Rachel and they pass notes back and forth, and for the first time, Melinda tells someone what happened, but does not say a name. When Rachel asks who it was, she does not believe Melinda and yells at her and calls her jealous. At prom though, Rachel dumps Andy and it is the talk of the school.
In the last week of school, Melinda is cleaning out the closet she hides in, she no longer feels that she needs it, when Andy steps in and tells her that he knows she enjoyed it and that he is tired of her spreading rumors. When he attempts to rape her a second time, she tries to escape and he hits her. She then hits him with a board and is able to unlock the door, where the lacrosse team is waiting with their sticks raised as someone runs to get help.
Melinda finishes the school year completing her tree, rekindling her friendship with Rachel, and earning the respect of everyone for standing up to a known bully. Finally, Melinda feels like she is able to begin working past her rape.
Melinda Sordino: A freshman in high school who was raped at a party before the school year started and has become the outcast of the school for getting the party busted. At the time of the incident, she doesn't tell anyone. Throughout the school year, she retreats farther and farther into herself until just before the end of the school year when she sees that an old best friend is now dating the guy who raped her. Finally, at the end of the year, she stands up to the man who raped her and can begin to get her life back.
Andy Evans: The senior who raped Melinda and is also one of the most popular guys in school. He dates Rachel, a previous friend of Melinda, towards the end of the school year, but when she refuses to let him feel her up at prom and breaks up with him, he becomes the joke of the high school. He corners Melinda in a broom closet and attempts to rape her again. Melinda fights back this time and other students come to her aid.
Rachel: Melinda's friend since childhood who disowns Melinda after she called the cops to a party. She makes friends with the foreign exchange students and ignores Melinda through the school year. Before prom, Melinda and Rachel pass notes in the library and Melinda tells her about the party; however, when Melinda says that it was Andy, Rachel's current boyfriend, she accuses Melinda of being jealous. However, what Melinda says stays with Rachel and she ends up breaking up with Andy. After the second attack, Rachel reaches out to Melinda to repair their friendship.
Mr. Freeman: Melinda's Art teacher who is easily a favorite among the students because he lets them listen to music and eat in class. At the beginning of the year, he assigns them all a word, and that word is what they will spend the year drawing in different styles. He works on a painting of a prison with other school employees behind bars during the course of the school year. His distaste for the school board is palpable, but that does not stop him from teaching the students to the best of his abilities. Melinda bonds with Mr. Freeman over the course of the year and he is always open to her and tries to get her to open up.
The Parents: Melinda's parents, in a lot of ways, are normal parents. They are upset when they learn their daughter is cutting class and not doing well in her classes. However, they aren't parents of the year either. They blame Melinda for these things and do not try to figure out why she is acting this way. It is alluded to that her parents may each be having an affair, and they argue a lot. They both put work before family, but they have different work ethics. The Christmas scene though, is very touching, when they gift her with a sketch pad and charcoals because they notice she's been drawing. In this moment, Melinda wants to tell her parents what happened, but she also does not want to ruin the moment and still isn't ready to talk about it.
Heather: A new student who befriends Melinda at the start of the school year. Heather is a very Type A personality. She knows what she wants to be when she grows up, she wants to join as many clubs as possible, and she is emotion driven. She often uses Melinda to get things she wants, but does not listen to Melinda. When one of the groups, the Martha's, won't let Heather join, Heather drops Melinda because she is too depressing and doesn't have the same ambitions. When she realizes that her change in friends group still isn't going to help Heather get into the Martha's, she goes back to Melinda. This time though, Melinda stands up for herself.
David Petrakis: A boy in a few Melinda's classes, and her lab partner in Science class. He goes back and forth between wanting to be Pre-Med and Pre-Law. He is very politically driven and gets the History teacher in trouble for his racist rants. He also helps Melinda stage a silent protest when the same History class. Melinda forms a type of crush on him, but because of the rape, she cannot properly explore these feelings until she works on that.
Ivy: A girl in Melinda's Art class who through the course of the year, forms a friendship with. They bond after Ivy accidentally gets marker on Melinda's shirt and Ivy helps her get the stain out in the bathroom. In the bathroom, they write the remarks to not trust Andy Evans. When Ivy sees that more girls have added to their comment, she grabs Melinda to show her.
Rape is a very upsetting topic. People do not like to talk about it. No one wants to admit that someone could do something so horrific to another human being. However, the bigger issue is that people are quick to blame the victim and forgive the abuser.
"Look at what she was wearing."
"She was drunk."
"They were asking for it."
"They never said no."
Both men and women are raped every year, and it is not because of these reasons or any others. It is because someone took advantage of them. When a person tells you that they have been raped, they are trusting you with a very personal issue and they believe that they can talk to you. Do not judge them, do not verbally attack them; just listen and ask them what you can do to help.
When it comes to any form of touching another person, consent is the most important thing, and it can be given and taken away at any point. The minute a person says no, or to stop, or resists, it is rape.
What I Liked
- As I have said, this book beautifully discusses what it is like for a person who has been raped and how they work through the aftermath of it.
- The students are very accurate descriptions of what it is like to be a teenager. I saw a lot of my high school self in Heather and Ivy, and other characters reminded me of high school friends and students I knew.
- It has a happy ending. Not every situation like this has a happy ending, but this story gives people hope that no matter what they are going through, you can get through this.
- At the end of the book, Anderson gives information about how she wrote the story, her mindset during it, etc. It also gives information for people who have suffered abuse or know someone who has. This information should be everywhere!
What I Didn't Like
- The novel ends almost right after Andy attacks Melinda a second time. I would like to know what happened to Andy, how Melinda's parents reacted.
Speak is on a list of banned books, mostly because of the rape scenes. By banning this book, you are preventing people who have gone through similar situations from realizing they aren't alone, feeling that they can seek help, and helping people who haven't been through it understand what the person is feeling. I'm not saying you need to read it to your 5 year old, but this should be available in high schools, seeing as Freshman is the person who was raped by a Senior.
Genre(s): Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
Would I Recommend It: Yes! Read this everyone!