Book Review: Speak

The publisher recently released the 20-year anniversary version of this story. I am far behind the boat on this, as it is my first time reading it. That’s what I love about words: they’re timeless. Twenty years later, I can discover a book and immerse myself in its pages.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The publisher recently released the 20-year anniversary version of this story. I am far behind the boat on this, as it is my first time reading it. That’s what I love about words: they’re timeless. Twenty years later, I can discover a book and immerse myself in its pages.

Cover Description

“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.”

Characters

Melinda sees the world through the cynical eyes of someone it has treated unjustly. Her personality has a sharp edge to it, but not the edge of someone who is belligerent by nature. The bitter irony in her perspective is a defensive reaction to the pain acidifying her insides. Only Heather, a new student who is desperate to climb the social hierarchy, speaks to her.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they react to pain. Melinda holds hers inside, bearing her trauma in silence. Heather wails and shouts her troubles like a wolf howling at a full moon. The contrast between them adds power to the theme of the book.

Plot

The strength of this story is its subtlety. This is not a political manifesto, a b*tch party at the bar, or a transcript of a therapy session. The story focuses on Melinda as a person, her individual experience, and her processing what happened to her. It does not claim to represent all rape victims, nor does it strive to make vast cultural changes. This is about one girl learning to speak up for herself. Because of that, it is even more powerful.

Writing Style

This was the author’s debut novel, and her writing is flawless. When you begin with flawless and improve from there, you know you’re a good writer. I can attest to that, because, while this book was well written, the writing in her later publications left me in awe.

Other

As you can see in the Amazon link below, the 20th anniversary edition has a different cover than the copy I checked out of the library. I like them both.

This book often appears in discussions about censorship and what topics ought to be permitted in public schools. Personally, I don’t see any reason this shouldn’t have a place on school library shelves. The descriptions were not so graphic as to be unreadable, and the subject is relevant to teenagers. The book itself is short enough not to take up an entire semester should teachers make it required reading, and I recommend they do. I got more from Speak than I did from most of the stuff teachers forced me to read in high school.

Conclusion

This book is well-worth reading. I read it in two sittings, but it is short enough to read in a day if you’re so inclined. I went to the library, but I would say it is not only worth buying, it would be worth buying two to have one to give to a friend.


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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson


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Book Review: Wintergirls

I advise you to tie a rope around your waist before diving into this book, because after swimming in the darkness, you’ll need a lifeline to pull yourself back to the surface.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderso

“Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in fragile bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. But then Cassie suffers the ultimate loss—her life—and Lia is left behind, haunted by her friend’s memory and feeling guilty for not being able to help save her.”–Back Cover Description

Character and Plot

From page one, Lia is deep into mental illness and anorexia. The author shows us her world through her hallucinating eyes: a broken family that tries and fails to understand her; a friend she should have helped who now haunts her; classmates who speak meaningless words; other wintergirls who encourage her to “stay strong.” Despite Lia’s distorted view of herself, she shows her sweet personality with her stepsister, Emma. This relationship provides the single thread of hope that runs through the novel.

The plot reminds me of Dexter and Breaking Bad based on its disturbing spiral from Lia’s memories of being “a real girl” into her reality of a “wintergirl.” You watch Lia do horrible things to herself, and though in your head you scream at her to stop, you can’t tear your eyes off the page as you witness it happen.

Writing Style

If Tim Burton had written Alice and Wonderland, it might have looked something like this book. This is the second book I have read by Laurie Halse Anderson, and once again her writing leaves me gaping in awe. Her descriptions are as beautiful as they are haunting. Her tweaks of style serve a purpose. Running words together, crossing words out, filling entire pages with the same words, and leaving pages empty tell the story with the visual of the words themselves in addition concepts they represent.

Other

At first, I didn’t like the cover, but after finishing the book, I agree with it. I don’t believe the description on the back cover does justice to the potency of the narrative.

Conclusion

This book is not for readers who like long walks on the beach, but the right type would binge read it. Through the lens of its pages is an unflinching look into a sick mind and a grieving heart.

I’ll be honest, this book was too intense for me. It forced me back to a place I’d thought I’d left behind. Halfway through the book, I knew I should never have picked it up, but by then, I needed to reach the end. I needed the hope of a happy ending.

The right reader wouldn’t regret shelling out their precious pennies for a hardcover copy. I’m glad I can return mine to the library, lest it haunt me from my bookshelf.

I advise you to tie a rope around your waist before diving into this book, because after swimming in the darkness, you’ll need a lifeline to pull yourself back to the surface.

Read with caution.


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Wintergirls

If this interests you, you may also like The Impossible Knife of Memory and Speak (Reviews Pending)


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