Speak volumes without words

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson; published by Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 1999; 198 pages.

Melinda Sordino is an incoming freshman.  The transition to high school is never an easy one, but for Melinda, the transition includes precious losses.  The preceding summer included attending a bacchanal party that came to an abrupt halt when she called the police.  As her physical losses mount, she loses more and more of her ability to speak.  Friends abandon her like she is a plague.  Parents and teachers notice the change but blame it on “acting out,” rather than considering what could have caused the dramatic alteration.  With the encouragement of an understanding art teacher, Melinda finds her voice, figuratively speaking.  In the end, she is confronted by the crippling source of her pain and is able to stand up for herself, find her physical voice and transform the villain into the school heroine.

Laurie Halse Anderson uses the diary format she employed in Catalyst again in Speak.  We are tranported into the brain of a traumatized, victimized 13 year old girl.  In this case, Anderson uses grading periods to divide the book into four sections, with each divided into “chapters” that highlight events during that nine week period.  As an adult, I had a pretty good clue about the events of the party before Melinda revealed them, but I don’t know that younger teens would predict what had happened.  In the end, it didn’t matter that I had figured out the horror she went through, it was more important to experience her transformation.  Once again, I was deeply impressed by Anderson’s ability to involve the readers’ five senses in her descriptions–I found myself chewing on my own lips looking for the scabs, for example.

With so many young adults feeling like outsiders, this book should resonate with teen readers.  Boys and girls alike experience personal violations and losing friends, so the themes should touch appeal to both genders. 

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 8-10

speakCover Art: The face is haunting–no mouth, eyes two different colors and looking like they’re focused somewhere past the reader.  The tree includes old growth and new.  The spine is read with white lettering and should be easily found on the shelves.  Overall, I think this cover would pique the interest of teens.

From Reading List:  Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2009 winner


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