Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson


Melinda Sordino calls the cops at a late summer party, a move that gets her ostracized during her freshman year at Merryweather High School. The loss of her friends and the isolation begin to get to her, and she starts to withdraw, speaking as little as possible with art class as her only refuge.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.”

Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

For most of the book, Melinda comes across as a disembodied observer of her own life — and, suddenly buried in the monotonous drumbeat of descriptions of her classes, grades, walking the halls, and sitting alone in the cafeteria — we find out why she’s struggling.

The book tells an important story of the aftermath of a devastating event that unfortunately too many teens have experienced. Melinda’s voice is impeccably written. The writing style perfectly captures that of an isolated teenager cynically going through the motions after experiencing trauma and the cruelty of high school life.

The ending was a bit abrupt and a tad unrealistic, but on the whole, the book was eerily plausible. Melinda’s experience reminds me of the unspoken traumas that people are carrying with them, and their desire to be seen and heard.

Speak was book number 2 in my 2023 Banned Book challenge, inspired by the American Library Association’s banned book guide. Like with my first book of the challenge, which also centered around high school life, I was again befuddled by why a book portraying a teenager dealing with the harsh realities of life would be banned. Why ban the book instead of using it as an opportunity to teach high school students how to listen to, understand and respect each other?

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