Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

“THE FIRST TEN LIES THEY TELL YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL
1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress code will be enforced.
4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
5. Our football team will win the championship this year.
6. We expect more of you here.
7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.
8. Your schedule was created with your needs in mind.
9. Your locker combination is private.
10. These will be the years you will look back on fondly.”

I’m trying to think of ways to go about describing this book, and I’m not really sure how to start. It’s dark, depressing, terrifying, and amazing. Everyone should read it. You might hate it (and I’ll get to you), but you must read it.

The story starts with Melinda, the narrator, starting 9th grade. Everyone, even her old friends, won’t talk to her. It’s revealed that during the summer Melinda called the cops on a party and it got busted – a few people got arrested, and now everyone hates her. Something happened to Melinda at that party, something she hasn’t told anyone about. She retreats into herself, withdrawing from school, her family, and any possibility of friendship. It isn’t until the middle of the story that we learn what really happened at the party, but Anderson gives us a big fat hint in this scene where Melinda and her lab partner dissect a frog in biology class:
“Our frog lies on her back. Waiting for a prince to come and princessify her with a smooch? I stand over her with my knife. Ms. Keen’s voice fades to a mosquito whine. My throat closes off. It’s hard to breathe. I put out my hand to steady myself against the table. David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet. I have to slice open her belly. She doesn’t say a word. She is already dead. A scream starts in my gut – I can feel the cut, smell the dirt, leaves in my hair.”

Holy god. Remember what I said about the terrifying stuff?

The main reason I loved this book is because I was very, very similar to Melinda in high school. Her attitude about school, her cynicism towards the whole “high school is the best time of your life” crap, her opinions about classes and teachers and the uselessness of guidance counselors…that was me. I kind of wished I could transport myself into the story just so Melinda and I could sneer at pep rallies together.

And then I felt guilty, because nothing bad happened to me in high school. Nothing like the stuff Melinda went through. She had a reason for being so withdrawn and unhappy and angry about everything. I didn’t. It’s sort of an unpleasant realization – wow, I was a total snot for absolutely no reason. I was okay with this eventually, but some people might not be. I can imagine someone criticizing this story for being too emo, or saying that Melinda was too much of a downer.

Okay, I didn’t want to give away spoilers, but I can’t talk about my next point without revealing some stuff. So, just to be clear…

HERE BE SPOILERS, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED:

(t’s a spoiler only if you didn’t guess what happened to Melinda from that paragraph I quoted, just so we’re clear)

Then again, they could be like a certain reviewer (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) who wrote, and I quote, “I’m so sick of this [sic] stories about girls who got raped and spend the entire book pitying themselves.”

Okay.

Apparently Laurie Halse Anderson gets this a lot. My edition of the book has an interview with her, and she said, “I have gotten one question repeatedly from young men. These are guys who liked the book, but they are honestly confused. They ask me why Melinda was so upset about being raped.”

Everyone sit on that for a minute, I’ll just be in the corner doing yoga breaths and counting to ten.

Verdict: five out of five stars

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