Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I really struggled over giving this book such a low rating because I really wanted to rate it highly – it was a book talking about a very difficult, sensitive and taboo topic and Laurie Anderson was very brave to write this book. Unfortunately, however important the topic may be the execution was just not very good, and I was pretty disappointed by the end.

(this review is going to be a little spoiler-y since I feel like the plot is kind of important on this one)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Pages: 224

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

RATING: ★★

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The first ten lies they tell you in high school.

“Speak up for yourself—we want to know what you have to say.”

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

The angsty narrator was interesting…for awhile. Melinda is understandably jaded and depressed, and it gives her a very angry and dismissive outlook on life. She ridicules her teachers and parents in her head, dismisses all her other classmates as shallow, and generally hated everyone around her. I thought there would be some sort of character development, but even by the end of the book despite the ways she improved herself her overall attitude didn’t really change.

The plot leads nowhere. Majority of the book is Melinda miserably going through school, which made me just as miserable reading it. I got bored listening to Melinda ranting about her terrible school, terrible parents, terrible everything in life.

Melinda supposedly ‘fights back’ against her rapist, which…didn’t really happen. From the looks of the synopsis, you would think that the book starts out with Melinda trying to overcome her trauma, but gets confronted by her rapist and retaliates, speaking out against him. Well (spoiler alert!) this doesn’t happen until the last few pages. I kept reading to find out when Melinda would stand up against her attacker, but even by the end I couldn’t really say she was brave and ‘spoke out’ against him. Instead what happens is he attacks her, she defends herself and runs away, and some witnesses spread the word and he gets ousted. That’s it. I saw it less as ‘fighting back’ and more like self defense. Though Melinda does do brave things like warn her friend about her rapist and write on the wall of the girl’s bathroom that her rapist was a terrible person, the former was disregarded almost immediately and the latter was done in anonymity. I just felt like the synopsis hyped up her actions to seem much more than they were, and I was pretty disappointed by the end.

Pretty much no likeable side characters. I thought that there would be characters Melinda would talk to to help her healing process. Someone to confide in, to help her through the ordeal eventually. Well, there weren’t any. Everyone in the book was an ass. Her so-called ‘best friend’, her art teacher, her parents, her classmates – everyone sucked. The only good characters in the book showed up for maybe 10 pages or less. Maybe Anderson was making a point about how rape victims often have to suffer alone, which I understand, but it didn’t make the book very enjoyable to read about terrible people.

I feel like Anderson tried to paint a realistic picture of a rape victim’s life – some may have no support system, no one to turn to, no easy healing process, leaving them to suffer alone for a very long time. There’s no easy ‘forgetting about it and moving on’ for Melinda, and she has to carry the weight of her trauma for many, many days. Unfortunately I felt the realism made for a pretty monotone read. Without any interesting characters or events happening throughout the book, I found myself losing interest and struggled to finish. However I applaud Anderson for writing this book, as it’s a topic that must be given a voice and a platform, and I hope other authors can follow suit.

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