For a book about silence, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak has a lot to say. It's the story of Melinda Sordino, a teenager who begins high school with "seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache" (3). The last comes from her anxiety over facing the friends she betrayed when she called the police and broke up an upperclassmen's summer party. Now, she's Public Enemy #1. Friendless, she's reduced to slinking through the halls, hoping to float under the radar of bigger fish in the treachorous pond that is her high school.
Melinda hears whispers from the other students - she's a weirdo, a freak, a nark - but no one understands what really happened the night of the party. No one knows the horrible truth. Melinda wants to tell, but her throat turns to cotton every time she tries. So, she clamps up, speaking only when absolutely necessary. But, the secret she hides tears Melinda up inside. When she sees her former best friend at risk, she knows it's time to choke out the truth, but will her confession be enough to save her friend? Will anyone believe her? Most importantly, will speaking up be enough to save her from self-destruction?
The plot of Speak is deceptively simple. It's only when you peel back its many layers, that you see the complexity of this novel. Masterful use of symbolism, metaphor and language in general imbue it with power and meaning. Still, the most finely crafted element in the novel is, without a doubt, Melinda herself. Her voice rings with authenticity, even as it drips with sarcasm and disappointment. She's surprisingly real, someone who is alternately funny, awkward, scared and confused. Melinda Sordino's inner dialogue will make you laugh, seethe, grit your teeth and pray for this brave girl to find the courage to Speak.
To prove how engrossing Melinda's voice is, I offer you some of my favorite passages from the book:
Older students are allowed to roam until the bell, but ninth-graders are herded into the auditorium. We fall into clans: Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants, Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eurotrash, Future Fascists of America, Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths, Shredders. I am clanless. I wasted the last weeks of August watching cartoons. I didn't go to the mall, the lake, or the pool, or answer the phone. I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don't have anyone to sit with.
I am Outcast. (4)
My parents didn't raise me to be religious. The closest we came to worship is the Trinity of Visa, Mastercard and American Express. (29)
The first essay this semester was a dud: "Why America is Great" in five hundred words. She gave us three weeks. Only Tiffany Wilson turned it in on time. But the assignment was not a complete failure - Hairwoman runs the drama club and she recruitedseveral new members based on their performances as to why they needed an extension. (84)
See what I mean? Melinda Sordino is irresistible in all of her bitter, angst-ridden glory. Her story lacks warm fuzzies, but it is ultimately hopeful. I guarantee it will mesmerize you from its first word to its last.