Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson

I pretty much knew what I was in for when I selected this book for my Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon.  Horror.  A sick stomach.  Sadness.  But I also knew it was compulsively readable, and less than 200 pages.  Then I remembered Gillian. 

A couple of years ago, I recommended this book to a colleague of mind that helped me run the Book Fair at our school.  She bought it, took it home and read it, and the next day came back and told me she was going to use the book to do bodily harm to my person.  She said it made her want to hang herself.  Oops.  Well, dare I read something like this when I need to stay focused and awake?  Yes I did.

Synopsis:  Melinda Sordino has just started high-school, and even though she has lived in the Syracuse area her entire life, she is an outcast.  Her friends have abandoned her, and upperclassmen hate her.  You see, over the summer, she called 911 while at a party, bringing down the full extent of the law on her peers.  Nobody bothered to ask Melinda WHY she had called 911, and the effects of what happened that night have pushed Melinda into a dark corner in her mind.  She stops talking, withdrawing from her parents, her teachers, her potential as a top student. 

Melinda does find some escape in her art classes though.  Her teacher is a bohemian and is non-judgemental to her unwashed hair and her silence.  Her year-long project, to experiment with different art mediums in the form of a tree, frames a perfect analogy for her life in the 9th grade.  From the starting point of a blackened, burned tree stump, to learning to form limbs and leaves and life, Melinda begins to find her place within her school.  She also learns to find her voice, in order to speak up for herself and who she is inside.

My thoughts:  Now I understand why my friend wanted to hit me.  This was one tough read.  Don't get me wrong, the pages turned quickly - the prose incredibly conversational - but it left me feeling sickened.  The girl in this book is only one year older than my daughter.  It struck terror in my heart that made me want to go burrow in the back of my closet.

My daughter was actually hanging out with me during most of the readathon, and at one point, she asked me what the book was about because she kept seeing me make faces.  She knows it is a YA novel.  So, with a squeaky constricted voice, I told her.  And we actually had a good conversation about dangerous situations that she could find herself in, the sign of a true friend, and figuring out who has your back.  We talked about the importance of speaking up when something goes wrong, and having someone to confide in.  These days, talks like these are few and far between so I was grateful.

I didn't have the same experience in high school that Melinda did, but I knew people in her shoes.  Anderson certainly knows her subjects, and I think that is what made this book all the more terrifying. These kids were real.  The jocks, the goths, the cliques, the brains, the Casanova boys who made the rounds.  And the outcasts. 

This is an important book for kids (and parents of kids) to read.  A thank you to JoAnn at Lakeside Musing for sending it to me!

4.5 out of 5 

      

35 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

This sounds interesting. I have seen it around quite a lot, but you are the first person who has actually made me want to read it. I can't resist a short, powerful book.

christina said...

I read this book five years ago, maybe...and it STILL haunts me. I'm glad that it opened up conversation between you and your daughter.

Melody said...

I've this book sitting in my pile for a while; I need to move it up the pile after reading so many great reviews and that how powerful and haunting this story is.

Zibilee said...

I haven't read this book, but my daughter has. I gave it to her when she turned 14 because I knew exactly what it was about, and I thought she needed to have that message. I do want to read it at some point, though I already know pretty much everything about it. I also want to read her other book Wintergirls, because I have heard good, but devastating things about that one as well. Great review, Sandy!

JoAnn said...

Powerful stuff, for sure. So glad it provided the opportunity for a serious talk with your daughter. This is the only YA title my book club has ever discussed, but it was one of our most memorable meetings.

bermudaonion said...

I thought this book was fantastic too! Any books that facilitates dialogue between parents and teens is wonderful if you ask me. Do you think your daughter will read it now?

Marce said...

I didn't enjoy the writing but the story is so important. Definitely an opener for discussion.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I have heard this book is fantastic but terrifying, and so I have been afraid to read it!

Meg said...

In high school, I remember this book making the rounds from student to student -- it was very "controversial" to our teachers, but no one tried to stop us from reading it (thank goodness).

I'm sorry to say many of the details have faded from my mind, but I do recall being very emotionally affected by it. Anderson is an amazing writer.

Have you read Catalyst? WHEW, that one is like a swift kick to the gut! My coworker loaned it to me years ago and we still talk about it! And she just finished Wintergirls and said it was... rough. Serious. Heavy.

Julie P. said...

I agree with your review wholeheartedly! This book is incredibly powerful with some important messages for today's teens.

Kay said...

Sandy, this is why you needed to read this book:

"We talked about the importance of speaking up when something goes wrong, and having someone to confide in. These days, talks like these are few and far between so I was grateful."

As the mother of a grown daughter, I know of what you speak - the talks. Take 'em when you can and impart what you can.

I know that SPEAK is a powerful book. Tough and filled with things that strike terror in a mother's heart. However, I recommended it over and over to kids and especially to their moms. What a gift this author has.

Ti said...

I can read a lot of topics but this is one that I steer clear from. I mean, nothing ever happened to me personally and I never witnessed anything myself, but the topic just diturbs me to no end. I'm not sure I could get through it.

Darlene said...

I just picked this book up the other day. I'm pretty anxious to find some time to read it. I'm glad it sparked a good conversation between you and your daughter.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I read this a few years ago and it was absolutely heartbreaking. As hard as it might be to read, how wonderful that it started that conversation between you and your daughter. Books are powerful!

Martha@Hey, I want to read that said...

Well any book that fosters a great conversation with your children is a winner. That being said, I don't think This one is for me. Besides not reading my YA I don't think I'm up for being so wrung out.

If you haven't yet, stop by and enter my giveaway: http://heyiwanttoreadthat.com/2011/05/13/double-giveaway/

Kathleen said...

This was a tough read but it definitely highlighted an issue that I think is more common than people think. This is definitely a must read for parents and kids (of an appropriate age).

Meghan said...

This is a tough read. It brought back high school for me so vividly - I think you're right that it's the reality of the characters that makes the book so affecting. I'm glad you got a good conversation with your daughter because of it.

caite said...

you almost have me sold.
I am made of sterner stuff..I think.

Staci said...

I try to put this book into the hands of every 8th grade girl in my school....this book MUST be read and talked about!!

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I agree - Speak is a supremely important novel. It's great that it helped spark a conversation with your daughter, too. These things, while sickening and distressing, do happen and it's so important that teens are aware.

Page said...

I recently read this book and it is a tough book to read, but a necessary one. It is one that all young girls should read and learn from because things like this still happen and most people are afraid to talk about it. I have a colleague who will not read the book because a similar incident happened to her.

Trisha said...

I finally caved and bought this at half-price books last month. Someday soon I will have to read it.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I have a copy of this in our home. The kids had to read it in middle school. I probably should have read it then too. I will have to pull it out and read it.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I cannot believe I haven't picked up my copy yet. It's been in my office for a year since receiving it through Paperbackswap. These story lines are always tough subjects that make me upset for injustices. I do want to read it, but I guess it's taking me some time to get ready emotionally to read it.

Gavin said...

I think it is brilliant that this book opened up the space for that conversation with your daughter. I can't help thinking that's one of the reasons Anderson writes the way she does.

Amy said...

I cannot imagine how difficult this book must have been for you to read being a mom and having a daughter close in age to Melinda. I haven't read this book yet but I know the basic story. I know it's not an easy read in terms of being disturbing but I want to read it at some point. After reading your review I think I'll be reading it sooner rather than later. Thanks, Sandy

Alyce said...

This was an emotional read, and it is scary thinking about how often those situations happen. Very cool that it raised important topics of discussion for you and your daughter.

Jenners said...

I've heard this was quite a powerful book. And if I recall, it was being banned in schools I think. Of course, your review just makes me want to read it immediately. I'm drawn to disturbing reads.

samantha.1020 said...

Yes, yes, yes! I couldn't agree more that this is a book to be talked about especially with young adults. The author creates such realistic characters...it was heartbreaking at times but such an amazing book! I'm hoping to reread it at some point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

Lauren said...

I love, love, love this book. I read it in a day back in college.

reviewsbylola said...

This isn't my favorite from Anderson, but I found it compulsively readable. It is certainly powerful!

Alice Teh said...

Sandy, now you made me wonder why I buried the book for so long in the pile. I need to fish it out from somewhere in my apartment...

Anita said...

My daughter, one of them, read this in HS and did a report on it. I didn't read it, but she still says it's one of the best books she ever read, it stayed with her.

Melissa said...

I've heard such great things about this book, and even bought it last year. Glad it started a great conversation with your daughter.

BookQuoter said...

I agree with you. This book is a must-read. Sadly, there are a lot of kids who need to speak out.