For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good book.
Day 40, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino is a freshman who begins her first year at Merryweather High School with a reputation—she’s the girl who ruined a popular summer party by calling the cops. Why Melinda called the police, why she won’t speak of what happened at the party, why she freezes up with she sees a senior named Andy Evans, are all hints, but no one is taking the hints. Students bully or ostracize her. Friends abandon her. Teachers don’t understand why a formerly good student is failing her classes. Her parents are impatient with her moodiness, her poor grades, her non-existent social life, her refusal to just plain talk to them. Where, everyone wonders, is the Melinda who was the normal teenager?
Melinda tells her story herself in Speak, in short diary entries that relay the struggle she endures each day at school and the comfort she does not receive in her disaffected home. Many of the entries relate the peculiarities of high school, and many are sharply amusing. Before the trauma of the summer, Melinda was a regular girl, and her memories of this—her desire to be that girl again—flavor her observations. But as much as she wants to go back, she can’t. It’s not that she doesn’t try. She befriends an awkward new girl. She works on art projects. She tries to bridge the divide between her overworked, distant parents. But nothing works, and her depression and isolation grow until her former best friend Rachel starts to date Andy Evans. Melinda is so terrified that what happened to her will happen to Rachel that she breaks her silence to reveal the unspeakable: at the party, Melinda was raped by Andy Evans.
Why is Speak a good read for women? Melinda is silenced by her own fear of Andy, by weakness, embarrassment, shame, and all the other hallmark emotions that further harm victims of sexual violence. The diary entries provide the reader with an entry into the private world of someone so blatantly crying for help, and it is frustrating to both Melinda and the person reading her story that no one person can find the key to open her up and make her talk. When she does speak, it takes an act of great courage, and the enormity of that step makes Melinda Sordino regain her personal power in a remarkable and timeless story.
A note as I end this series of reviews: Of all the books in all the world, Speak is the book I would recommend that all girls read—and young men as well. Laurie Halse Anderson created a powerful story about a single girl’s trauma and trial by society, but it speaks for women and girls everywhere who, for whatever reason, cannot find a voice. Because it deals with rape, Speak is regularly banned by schools and school boards, sadly proving that silencing victims of sexual violence remains a problem in real life as well as in fiction.