Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Speak

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: Puffin/22 October 1999

Edition: Paperback



Barnes and Noble:

“Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. 

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

This book has content warnings for bullying, rape and assault.

This book is tricky for me to review because I understand the importance of it and agree with its importance, and yet I have really complicated feelings about the execution. It’s not really designed to be an enjoyable read, so it’s tricky to measure why things are working for me and why things aren’t. Here’s my attempt at getting my thoughts down.

Every single person in this book is insufferable to some level. Every single time one of them shows up you know they’re not going to do anything helpful, and I just wanted them all to go away and leave Melinda alone. While there was so much talk about getting her to speak there was none about why she wasn’t speaking. Assumptions were made, threats would occur, but no one thought to ask why. While this works to show the ignorance people have around the subject of sexual assault — as annoying as it was, it was unfortunately realistic — it really made the book drag, and that’s really hard when the book is already less than 200 pages long to begin with.

Additionally, not a lot happened in the book. There wasn’t much of an actual plot; it was describing Melinda’s year at school without providing much of a through storyline outside of the rape, and that didn’t really work to hold all of the book together because it was more of a covert storyline. I went along with Melinda’s day-to-day business, and eventually I didn’t care anymore because nothing was happening and there was no emotion whatsoever. While it didn’t make for fun reading, I do think that this was actually pretty clever; I didn’t care because Melinda didn’t care. By giving me a lack of emotions, Anderson was making me feel like Melinda was really feeling. It’s a subtle touch, but once I realized that was happening I felt a little better about my reaction to the book.

This isn’t really supposed to be a book that you’re supposed to enjoy. It exists to make you think about sexual assault and rape culture and how those who aren’t directly participating in sexual assault are still a part of the problem. This book isn’t my favorite by any means, but I do appreciate it and what it has done.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

2 thoughts on “Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

  1. Pingback: January 2018 Wrap-up! – Benni Loves Books

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