Anderson, Laurie Halse (1999). New York: Scholastic. ISBN-10: 014131088X
No one at her high school is talking to freshman Melinda, ever since she called the cops to break up a teen drinking party the summer before, and Melinda’s not talking either, hardly ever. That’s because, we find out later, of what happened at the party between Melinda and Andy Evans, a predatory senior. As the year goes on Melinda becomes more isolated and depressed. She fixes herself a little refuge in an old janitor’s closet, decorating the space with her art and a poster of Maya Angelou, and spends time alone in there. The book is divided into the grading periods of freshman year; Melinda and her teachers both rate her lower and lower as the year goes on. Only the art teacher keeps making connection and pushing at Melinda. With spring Melinda begins to make a fragile connection with her science lab partner, David. Then Rachel, Melinda’s former best friend, starts going out with Andy, and Melinda forces herself to speak. Even though this does no good at first, the suspicion does move Rachel to back off from Andy, and provokes Andy’s behavior out into the open, where Melinda can assert herself against him and his behavior is witnessed by others.
Since she called the cops during a teen drinking party last summer, nobody’s speaking to Melissa during her freshman year, and she herself can barely speak at all. The reason Melinda made that call, and the reason why she now spend her school days hiding in a janitor’s closet, clearly has to do with Andy Evans, a senior referred to by Melinda as IT.
This was an excellent book. Melinda is acute and observant, and even when so depressed, her observations of high school are very keen and humorous. Her mental state is reflected in the recurring images—trees, mirrors, skin, and all the examinations of speech, voice, and silence. Her pain and isolation are realistic and piteous, and the ending of the book was cathartic.
About the author
Laurie Halse Anderson was born in 1961 in upstate New York, near where Speak is set. She has written many very successful YA books, but she started out her writing career as a journalist. She says Speak is not based on her life or her daughter’s, thank God.
YA/Mental, Emotional, Behavioral problems (Genreflecting)
Why wouldn't someone tell?
What was the connection between Art class and Melinda’s healing?
What could her parents have done differently to help her?
Reading Level/Interest Age
Middle school through high School (Genreflecting)
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National Book Award finalist
Scholastic Read 180 Program, YALSA Lists