Speak is a difficult book to review. So many other blogs and articles have featured it before that I am afraid that I will have nothing more to add to the conversation; however, it is a book that should be talked about often, and I will try to explain why!
Melinda, the narrator, is just beginning her first year at high school. She has no friends because of an end-of-summer party that went wrong when Melinda was raped by a older, more popular boy. She called the police but left the party before they arrived, and has never explained her actions. The other teenagers blame her for ruining the party and getting them into trouble, while Melinda’s parents don’t know what’s wrong and get annoyed at her for being withdrawn. Speak is about how Melinda retreats into silence before finally finding her voice.
What I liked most about Speak is that it’s not a harrowing read. Obviously, due to the subject matter, it can be uncomfortable at times, but Melinda is a witty narrator, which lifts the tone enough to stop it being relentlessly depressing. Her silence is largely due to fear and shame, rather than actual bullying. Her isolation is at least partly self-imposed. She thinks that nobody will understand what happened to her, and for a long time she tries not to think about it. She can’t explain it to anyone else because she can’t explain it to herself. Once she thinks about what has happened, and accepts it, she starts to be able to find the strength she needs to tell other people.
I also really liked the characters at school that Melinda interacts with. Her art teacher is a fantastic character, dealing with his own anger at the school board through his work. I also thought that Melinda’s former friends were well-developed, interesting and believable characters.
It’s not a book that I will read again – this isn’t a criticism, because I don’t think it’s that sort of book. It’s very much an ‘issue’ book, honest and realistic, but there are no exciting plot twists or enthralling love stories to entice me to re-read it. I think that the message it sends out is important and am appalled by the controversy – this is just the type of book that school libraries should stock.