by thea marie
A journal of items that I am reading/ have read: a personal commitment for 2008
Laurie Halse Anderson
Puffin Books 2001
As I was cleaning up my classroom, getting ready for summer break, I found this book on the floor. It was part of my classroom library. I had seen it several times, but had never read it. The cover art; howver, had always intrigued me, Instead of putting it back on the shelf with the others, I tossed it over into the box of things I was taking home. That night, I sat down with it and began to read. I didn't want to put it down again until I reached the end of it.
Speak is a fictional account of a young girl's ninth grade year, spent as an outcast by her friends and a stranger to her family. Nobody knows the terrible secret she has been keeping silent about, the secret that lead to her being shunned by her peers and that drives her self-defeating behavior.
Although I figured out what her problem was fairly early in the story, it was fascinating to watch how Anderson has the girl work her way through to finding her "voice" again. This is a book meant for the adolescent reader, but I can see the benefit in adults reading it, too. It is an excellent lesson in what you see in a difficult or depressed person, particularly a child or young person, is not necessarily what you're dealing with. It's a lesson in paying attention, asking the right quesstions, being patient, and in having compassion.
Melinda's real problem aside, I was able to reach back and empathize with her teen angst, the feeling of not quite being a part of things, having disdain for the cliques and the wannabe's and the geeky teachers. The secondary characters that Anderson employs to help Melinda tell her story are real people, not caricatures. Her parents are normal people, concerned about her, but too busy, like a lot of parents, to dig underneath the surface to find the real reason behind her low grades and sullen demeanor. They fuss, they punish, they argue between themselves, and we get to see how Melinda views them because she is telling the story.
In any high school hallway, you might run into Heather, who in the beginning latches onto Melinda because as the new girl, she too is an outcast. But once she thinks she's found her niche, she drops Melinda only to come back and try, unsuccessfully, to use Melinda to gain favor with the "Martha's", the "preppy" group of girls she's trying to fit into. There are former friends who snub her in a way that I've seen adolescent girls do others and that I remember doing and having done to me. There is the teacher with issues who gets challenged by the bright student who can see through him and prejudices. And then there is the inevitable Big Man on Campus/ bully.
The scenes, the situations, and the basic problem, when it's revealed are all written very realistically and build up to the point that Melinda is able to triumph over her emotions and confront the thing that has been stifling tongue and her life. This is a book I will be encouraging my students to read for the plot, the writing, and for the lesson it teaches. I can envision some pretty interesting book talks and discssions coming out of it.