Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson
Being a high school freshman was scary. I was in a new building, with new teachers, new classmates, harder schoolwork, and a different set of rules. When I was 14 years old, I read Speak for the very first time in my freshman English class and it quickly became my favorite book that I read that entire year.
“You have to know what you stand for, not just what you stand against.” – (Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak)
As readers follow a school year in the life of Melinda Sordino, they see how she lives her day-to-day life after a traumatic incident that occurred over the summer. Melinda is a 14-year-old girl who is hated by her ex-friends for calling the police at the end of the summer party. She is also carrying around the weight of her summer pain and going through the types of hormonal changes that occur for any 14-year-old girl.
Melinda’s process of confronting the situation, accepting what happened, and eventually finding her voice again unfortunately doesn’t happen immediately. Melinda is silenced throughout most of the novel, which should never have to be a reality for anyone. Melinda is the oppressed by many different forces. However, we see this female character find her strength and rise above her hardships in the end.
Why has it been challenged or banned & why should we read it?
“I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears?” – (Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak)
Speak has been repeatedly challenged and banned in certain schools. It has been referred to as “soft porn,” due to its content of rape. Wesley Scroggins, an associate college professor at Missouri State University wrote an opinion piece in the Springfield News-Leader and said that books like Speak should be hidden from students. Laurie Halse Anderson has no problem speaking up for her novel and expressing why it is so important for books like this to be read in schools. Dealing with such a difficult topic (rape), requires thoughtful discussion and not silence. Anderson’s reaction to this opinion piece from 2010 was wonderful. She is an active tweeter (https://twitter.com/halseanderson) and blogger (http://madwomanintheforest.com), and responds to her fans and critics. After she tweeted and blogged about Scroggins’ article, she had hundreds and hundreds of people commenting and posting their own stories about rape and sexual abuse. A twitter feed #speakloudly was also set up and people were posting through that means. Anderson advocates for “speaking up” and she enables people to do just that.
In an interview Anderson was asked to share an example of how Speak has made a different in someone’s life to which she responded that she has “heard from many survivors of sexual assault who told me that they didn’t dare tell anyone about being attacked. They held in the physical and emotional trauma, sometimes for decades. Often they turned to drugs, alcohol, or cutting to cope with the emotional pain. Then they read Speak. Melinda gave them the courage to speak up for the first time, to tell what happened, and to get the help they deserved. I have heard from even more people who were not raped, but who found a piece of themselves in Melinda.”
Although this novel has been censored in the past for mature situations, this is a novel that contains issues that are prevalent in the lives of many teens. The issues of sexuality, rape, drugs, and neglectful parents are ones that speak to many teens. Although Melinda doesn’t speak for a year, her eventual ability to talk about what happened to her can help many teens, both female and male, feel that they too can speak up. This novel provides a starting point for dialogue with students and encouragement for thinking critically about gender issues and their effect on identity development. When there is a discussion surrounding school cliques, sexual harassment, and parental relationships, there can be a profound effect on students’ lives and how they handle these situations if they are ever to occur in their own lives.
Read more about banning/challenges to this book:
This book has been made into a movie!: