Melinda had always been a normal kid – a pretty good student with plenty of friends. During the summer between middle school and high school, she attended a party and something so horrific happened, she called the police during the party. Since she never revealed the reason for calling, she was ostracized when everyone discovered that she was the one who made the call.
As she entered her freshman year of high school, Melinda found herself an outcast. Heather, a new girl befriended her at first, but dumped her when she realized that their friendship was hurting her chances or being accepted by the popular kids. Melinda’s parents became concerned when her grades suffered, but they were also very busy with work, so their attempts at helping her fell short. Melinda discovered that no one listened to her when she spoke, so she became a selective mute. She thought:
It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.
Before the year was over, Melinda decided that she couldn’t let a former friend suffer the same way she had and by trying to help her, she began to take steps to take control of her life.
I bought Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson on Buy Indie Day and stacked it with some other books. It languished there until I read Molly’s review and knew I had to read it next. This book follows Melinda’s life through one school year. It is hard for me to express how I feel about this book – to say I “loved” it seems so cliched, but I don’t know what else to say about a book that is so powerfully written that it stirred memories of what it felt like to be in high school. I don’t think adolescents are selfish by nature – I just think they’re all so busy trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world that they don’t notice when someone else needs help. I think Anderson did a superb job of capturing the voice of a teen-ager, so the book felt very real to me, even though I knew it was a work of fiction.
There is a reason Speak has won so many awards and is being taught in middle schools and high schools. This is an important work of fiction that I think the parent of every teen-ager should read. I marked so many passages in this book that I can’t possibly share them all, but I want to close with this one:
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.