Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson


Reading level: 7.1

Genre: Realistic fiction

ELL-Friendly: Yes

Library recommendation: High school

Rarely do I finish a book and want the story to keep going. I admit to enjoying ambiguous endings, but I really wanted to know what happened to Melinda after the story ended. I suppose that shows how much I grew to like her. <– That right there is a controversial statement I just made. More on that in a bit.

Part of me was frustrated with Melinda for not speaking the truth and standing up for herself. In that way, I sided with her mother. At the same time, I understood why Melinda chose to be mute – speaking is difficult and and creates all sorts of problems. As she found, though, remaining quiet causes problems too. I sympathize with Melinda (sometimes I forget book characters aren’t real people) and didn’t find her annoying or self-centered like some goodreads reviewers did.

What I did find annoying was the way teachers were portrayed. The only “good” teacher Melinda liked or who stopped to listen to her was described as sort of odd. However, he was an art teacher with a slashed budget and a grudge against the school board, which seems pretty realistic to me. But he still came off as a little bonkers.

Because most of the setting was at school, I was left thinking what I would do with a Melinda in my classroom. There’s no good answer, really. The book is a reminder to not assume students are silent or acting out because they’re “bad” or don’t care. There could be a lot of deep thoughts going on in students’ minds even if they don’t speak. We must remember to give them support and different ways to communicate (through writing, music, drawing, etc.).

Several goodreads reviewers complained that Melinda got over her trauma too soon, so the story wasn’t realistic enough. I actually thought everything was quite realistic. It took her almost one year to find her voice and come to terms with what happened – that doesn’t seem quick to me. And the turnaround from Melinda being depressed to not depressed (or at least less depressed) was sudden, which is realistic too. I’ve been in slumps (depressions, even) for weeks and was suddenly able to bounce out of it very quickly.  Of course, it wasn’t trauma, so I can’t really say much.

I wouldn’t be comfortable putting this book in a middle school classroom because of the rape content. It’s not incredibly graphic, but it’s talked about and described. Perhaps reading it as a class with parent permission would be okay. It’s just got some heavy content.

Some random comments:

  • There’s a movie of Speak! But Melinda is played by Kirsten Stewart. 😦
  • I loved the audiobook narrator Mandy Siegfried. I thought her voice was perfect for Melinda.

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