Sunday, October 23, 2011
Review of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Published: April 2001
When Melinda Sordino's friends discover she called the police to quiet a party, they ostracize her, turning her into an outcast -- even among kids she barely knows. But even worse than the harsh conformity of high-school cliques is a secret that you have to hide.
*** this review may contain minor spoilers***
Tales of rape usually hold little appeal for me, mainly because when I read I like to escape from the harsh realities of our world. But I'd heard so much about Speak over the past year, particularly when it appeared on a list of books to ban. The reviews were glowing and it seemed as if this would be a book worth crying through.
What it was, was a bit more complicated for me. There were definite parts that moved me to tears, the beginning especially was wonderful. At first Melinda is very sympathetic. She's obviously gone through a traumatic experience and doesn't feel like she can talk to anyone about it. She acts wounded and her reactions are believable.
Around halfway through the book, I was getting pretty tired of it. I wanted her to really show a change in her attitude and actions. I wanted her to take action. But she doesn't. It's just an endless stream of her being ignored or teased by her former friends, of her moping about how no one understands. When she finally does take some action, when her rapist moves on to a new girl, she does it in a way that is so immature that I couldn't blame the other girl for reacting with skepticism.
There's a major emphasis on her being an artist like her father and like her art teacher believes her to be. And maybe it's poor description by the author, but the art Melinda creates sounds as if it looks like crap and it is literally made from garbage. Maybe it was supposed to be symbolic of how Melinda felt about herself, but I always felt that art made from garbage is usually garbage art, especially since Melinda doesn't really put any thought into her work, she simply does it and suddenly her teacher and another students are amazed. Makes me think of when a child's stick figure is sold for thousands of dollars.
The end was no surprise and in fact it gave me a bad taste in my mouth. It felt convenient and too much of a happy ending. Speak started out as such a deep and realistic story, but by the end it just felt hollow. I didn't cheer for Melinda, because to me her story stopped feeling authentic. I thought this book would have been a wonderful opportunity for the author to address the need to report rape and sexual assaults, but Melinda never does that. She just adds it to the rumor mill.
This book had so much more potential, and frankly it has put a sour taste in my mouth for other books by Anderson.