Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I’m pretty sure I started to read this while I was in middle school and couldn’t get into it, so I decided to give Speak another go.

It’s a rather quick read (I read it in a day) about a high school freshman named Melanie. Her school year starts off terribly as she finds herself friendless with a tattered reputation, and she begins to emotionally recede. Her anxiety leaves her almost speechless, and yet her inner turmoil is a constant stream of quick witted (and at times fearful) thought. As the story unfolds, we learn that Mellie became the class outcast because she had called 911 during a popular party over the summer, yet her reason behind the call goes unexplained for a long time.

In the meantime, Melanie is struggling in school. Her grades have tanked with the exception of her art class, and her parents and teachers don’t understand why. The only place she feels contentment at school is an abandoned janitorial closet that she cleaned up, and in her art class with Mr. Freeman, as she works on her yearly assignment- trees. Coached by her teacher, she tries different mediums to make her trees speak, and as the year goes on, she finally realizes the parallel between her tree’s expression and her own. When the epiphany takes hold, she decides to take action about her depression and the beast that haunts her.

Halse Anderson’s writing style throughout the book is broken into small thoughtful paragraphs straight from her main character’s mind, and instead of chapters, the book is broken into marking period quarters. I think this is what turned me off the first time I attempted to read this book, but I find it very clever now. This sets up the story timeline in a creative way, allowing the reader to understand the passing of time but without having it stated in the inner thoughts of the main character. I also was surprised at Mellie’s inner dialogue- though it’s a YA book, the content is, for the most part, mature. And when there are paragraphs of immaturity, it’s exactly what you would expect to come from a teenager. I thought I’d feel a little too old to be reading Speak, but Halse Anderson did a great job making Melanie’s story relatable and understandable for all ages.

As an aside, the copy I own is the platinum edition, so it came with a Q&A from the author, which I always love to read, and I found out that there is a movie version of Speak. After a little research, I found out it came out in 2004, starring a young Kristen Stewart. If you’ve seen it, what do you think? I think if the library has it, I’ll watch it and see how it compares.

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Overall, I would definitely recommend Speak. I know it’s an old YA book at this point, but it had a strong plot and main character that makes it still relevant to today.


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