Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

This book … I’ve wanted to read it for so many years but I always feared I’d Humpty Dumpty if I read it. I didn’t trust that I’d be able to reassemble the pieces if I shattered. When I read SHOUT I knew it was time to Speak but it still took me another couple of months to gather my courage to begin Melinda’s story. The verdict? It was everything I wanted it to be and more!

Now I’m preparing to ask Doc if I can borrow his Delorean so I can give this book to me when I was Melinda’s age, before it was published. I ached for a book like this in high school but never found one. It would have been life changing. I know this book has already touched countless lives before mine but I’m excited about the lives it will continue to change.

Sometimes I think high school is one long hazing activity: if you are tough enough to survive this, they’ll let you become an adult. I hope it’s worth it.

High school is already hard enough when you have friends. As an outcast Melinda’s experience is excruciating and I honestly don’t know how she made it through that first year as well as she did. Her growth, despite her trauma, despite the depression, despite all of the adults that could and should have been supporting her but didn’t, is remarkable.

The whole point of not talking about it, of silencing the memory, is to make it go away. It won’t. I’ll need brain surgery to cut it out of my head.

Melinda’s voice throughout this book is so authentic. Trying to navigate her way through the aftermath of her sexual assault with no support contributed greatly to her inability to speak. I loved her sarcasm and dry humour; being the outcast she was able to observe clearly the absurdity of many aspects of the high school experience.

I wanted to sit quietly with Melinda until she was ready to break her silence, just so she knew she wasn’t alone. I wanted to get to know Ivy more. I wanted to listen to David talk about whatever was on his mind each day. I imagined flaming meteors obliterating Heather’s perfectly coordinated wardrobe but appreciated her written outcome better. I wanted to drop kick Rachel into another dimension, preferably one with giant hornets staring her down.

I wanted to shake most of the adults in Melinda’s life awake, especially her emotionally neglectful parents but also every school staff member who saw and chose to do nothing. I constantly wanted to high five Mr Freeman, the only safe adult I saw in Melinda’s life, the only one who truly saw her and reached out. Mr Freeman is responsible for what’s currently my favourite sentence:

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.”

While I’d obviously prefer to live in a world where a book like this wasn’t needed, I love that I live in a world where survivors of sexual assault are beginning to have voices. We have a long, long way to go but books like this are catalysts for change. I know Speak is a life changing book; I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say it’s also a life saving one. Knowing you are not alone in your experience is powerful! I need all the stars that have ever existed for this book!

Content warnings include sexual and physical assaults, depression, emotional neglect, self harm, isolation and a whole bunch of high school crap that seems vitally important at the time you’re living it.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. If you are experiencing sexual assault or have in the past, please know that you are not alone. The full responsibility lies with the perpetrator; you are not to blame. There is help available and you are worthy of receiving it.

In America, the National Sexual Assault Hotline offers confidential, anonymous support to survivors 24/7/365. It’s never too late to get help. 800.656.HOPE or https://hotline.rainn.org/online.

If you live outside America and don’t know who to contact in your country, a good place to start is http://www.hotpeachpages.net.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The first ten lies they tell you in high school.

“Speak up for yourself – we want to know what you have to say.” 

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. 

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

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