Speak, an internal dialogue about struggling with a secret, brings to life Laurie Halse Anderson’s incredible ability to portray the teenage mind. Melinda Sordino begins high school as the most hated ninth grader at Merryweather High. Everyone seems to blame Melinda for the presence of the police at a big party over the summer, but no one knows why she called them. The only person that will talk to Melinda is Heather, the new student from Ohio, who desperately wants to be in one of the popular cliques at Merryweather, the Marthas. Melinda has names for all of the cliques, and she mocks them in her head mercilessly, but she desperately wants to be accepted. While Melinda deals with her isolation, lost friends, her apathy for schoolwork, and the deaf ears of her absent parents, Melinda begins to stop talking, and she bottles everything up inside. She cowers at the sight of the popular Andy, who she nicknames “It,” but she can’t seem to tell anyone why. As her ex-best-friend Rachel begins to show affection for Andy, Melinda realizes the necessity of her testimony of what really happened at that summer party, and she must find her own voice before she can speak out.
Although Melinda’s story is dark and she is full of shame, her voice is honest and hilarious. Because there is very little dialogue in Speak, the reader is able to connect on a much higher level to Melinda. She is cynical, sarcastic, and funny, under a veil of secrecy and pain. Melinda’s secret constantly eats away at her, and the reader feels her confusion and disillusionment with the rest of the world, who seem to turn a blind eye to Andy’s monstrosity.
This novel speaks to the issue of victim blaming, the hypocrisy of the public school system, and the difficulty of finding a place in the world at a young age. Adolescents carry the burden of a transition to adulthood, which is made even more difficult when adults turn a blind eye to the real-life issues they deal with on a daily basis. Speak encourages dialogue between young people and adults. Anderson encourages self-expression and the power of camaraderie through Melinda’s spunky voice, a blocky form of prose, and intense characterization.
I would recommend Speak to all young adults making the transition to maturity, parents, teachers, and counselors.