A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{August 23, 2013}   Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

speakPlot: The summer before her first year of High School Melinda attended a party… and busted it by calling the cops. Now everyone, including her best friends, hate her. Her grades are dropping and she is withdrawing into herself. No one has asked why she called the cops that night, what happened to her and Melinda is not talking.

This is a really difficult book, dealing with rape culture and bullying and the ways in which the victims are silenced, in this case almost completely. “That’s what you get for speaking up,” (p. 102) as Melinda puts it. Melinda is in a really bad place: friendless, isolated, depressed and scared. No one hears her, even when she does speak. But it is about the ways in which she finds her voice again.

And yet in spite of the difficult subject matter, it is a beautiful novel. Anderson has an amazing skill with language, with simple evocative imagery. My copy of the novel is full of post-its marking sentences and passages that moved me with their beauty and their aptness.

“I didn’t try hard enough to swallow myself.”  (p. 39)

“It’s easier to floss with barbed wire than admit you like someone in middle school.” (p. 108),

“…the scoring system in tennis where the numbers don’t make sense and love doesn’t count for anything.” (p. 169)

I’ll stop there or I’ll start quoting all the novel but suffice it to say, this was a book that really spoke to me. The whole book is written like a series of school projects. There are 4 marking periods and each ends with a grade in things like Plays Nice, Lunch, Clothes as well as classes we recognize like Social Studies and Algebra. These reveal a lot about her mental state and for the most part, it is poor.

As a librarian, I can’t finish without mentioning Anderson’s comment on censorship. I wholeheartedly agree that “censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in darkness and makes them vulnerable.” That, above all, is why books like hers are important: they show teens that they are not alone and give them the tools to deal with things that are tragically part of their world and their experience, whether we as adults want to admit it or not.

2013 (#42)


[…] Also check Halse Anderson’s award winning book about rape and bullying, Speak. […]

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