Laurie Halse Anderson (YA Fiction)
It’s Melinda Sordino’s first year at Merryweather High. A time of change and cliques, of fitting in or being left out, and lots of ups and downs and possibly even a few sideways. But for Melinda, her year is already beginning with a dark cloud hanging over her. While other teens are covering up their acne, Melinda is covering up her shame of being raped…and it’s not easy. Every fiber in her being wants to scream out and tell the world what happened to her, but why speak when nobody—not even your best friend—wants to listen?
Speak is the very reason why I immediately have to get my hands on a book as soon as it’s been challenged or banned. It’s like a bat signal that drones over and over again read me read me read me. Published in 1999, Speak was ranked 60th on the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Book for 2000-2009 and 25th for 2010-2019 for its inclusion of rape and profanity, deemed biased against male students, and blasted for containing a political viewpoint. I am shaking my head so furiously right now that I’m awaiting our local meteorologist to report a 6.5 magnitude tremor for my area any minute now. The profanity is mild, a fellow student stands up to a teacher who is trying to stifle a class debate, the girls in the book come off WAY harsher than the boys, and the rape scene is as follows: …he smells like beer and mean and he hurts me hurts me hurts me and gets up and zips his jeans and smiles. Feel that? I think that tremor may have hit 6.8 by now.
This is a gritty, raw, painful, and ultimately inspiring book about a young girl desperately trying to piece her life and sanity back together after it was gutlessly and maliciously ripped apart—her innocence robbed one summer night on the wet, dark ground. Told from Melinda’s point of view adds another layer to this complex and haunting story that shouldn’t be banned, but instead handed out to every teenager on the planet. By banning this book, the “powers that be” are truly no different than Melinda’s friends who choose to excommunicate her as she brings light to an unfortunate truth…that some individuals are just bad, no matter how attractive the packaging might be. Anderson’s message is far too important to ban to a dark corner. They say light is the best disinfectant and this book needs to be on every bookshelf and in every hand and hopefully there is a teacher or parent or trusted advisor there to read alongside to offer insight, context, and comfort.
I’ve never pored through a book so quickly before and that’s simply because Anderson ensnares you from the very first page with her poem “Make Some Noise”. More chills await as you slowly understand the significance of the cover design as Melinda’s story begins to stretch and her truth desperately reaches upward toward the sun so that it may live rather than die in darkness. I hope this book finds the right hands and that any Melinda out there finds someone like Melinda’s art teacher, Mr. Freeman, who says, “You’re a good kid. I think you have a lot to say. I’d like to hear it” because then, maybe, that would open up the door for someone to speak.
* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com
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