Monday, May 12, 2008

Brilliant Speak Has Lots to Say

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.

Grade: A

4 comments:

  1. Great quotes. I really liked this book, too. Such a realistic picture of high school.

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  2. I was very moved by this book and feel that all high school girls should read it. You are right in that it is deceptively simple but it has a powerful message. Even though I don't have a high schooler anymore, I remember those days and how a few of daughter's friends would share things with me. Sometimes things they couldn't share with their own moms. Maybe what I mean is that all mothers of high school girls should read this. Great review, Susan!

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  3. I thought this one was okay. I liked Just Listen by Dessen much more. Dessen's style of writing is more appealing to me.

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  4. Jeane, Kay - I thought it was really realistic, too. High school wasn't that traumatic for me, but I know it is for a lot of people. Moms of teen girls should read this book - maybe it would make communication a little easier??

    Joy - I haven't read any Dessen. I need to. I will be interested to see how she compares to Laurie Halse Anderson.

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