Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary: Ages 12-up. In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager. Divided into the four marking periods of an academic year, the novel, narrated by Melinda Sordino, begins on her first day as a high school freshman. No one will sit with Melinda on the bus. At school, students call her names and harass her; her best friends from junior high scatter to different cliques and abandon her. Yet Anderson infuses the narrative with a wit that sustains the heroine through her pain and holds readers' empathy. A girl at a school pep rally offers an explanation of the heroine's pariah status when she confronts Melinda about calling the police at a summer party, resulting in several arrests. But readers do not learn why Melinda made the call until much later: a popular senior raped her that night and, because of her trauma, she barely speaks at all. Only through her work in art class, and with the support of a compassionate teacher there, does she begin to reach out to others and eventually find her voice. Through the first-person narration, the author makes Melinda's pain palpable: "I stand in the center aisle of the auditorium, a wounded zebra in a National Geographic special." Though the symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed, it is effective. The ending, in which her attacker comes after her once more, is the only part of the plot that feels forced. But the book's overall gritty realism and Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired. Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Identity, Inclusion/Exclusion, Teenage/Female Violence

Classroom Implications: This novel pulls the reader into the world of an isolated teenager. This novel would be matched well with The Misfits, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Pinballs, The Outsiders, or Define Normal--all books that address identities and lives on the periphery. This is an excellent novel to study first person narration, symbolism, internal/external conflict and point of view.


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