Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

20484041Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a compelling YA novella that opens on Melinda’s first day of high school. That’s typically an anxiety filled day for anybody, but it’s excruciating for the girl who called the cops at an end of summer party, getting a lot of kids in trouble. Shunned by her friends and taunted by everyone, Melinda goes through the day and the entire school year mostly alone inside her own head.

Something has happened that has traumatized Melinda and transformed her from a good student with close friends into a withdrawn selective mute- she speaks only when absolutely necessary. Melinda keeps everything inside and it eats her alive. Harassed and tormented by her classmates and mostly ignored by her busy parents, she falls deeper into a depression; cutting class, forgetting to wash her hair, spacing out, gnawing on her lips until they are cracked and bleeding. Even her one friend, a cheery transplant from another school who is desperate to fit in somewhere, finally gives up on her, saying she is always negative and calling her a freak. But no one knows the torment Melinda is going through. As her grades slip and her social status plummets, she finds solace in art class. Her year-long art project is something she can get lost in and ultimately something that helps her heal.

Speak is an excellent portrayal of high school alienation – nothing is sugar coated here. This is an intimate look into teenage depression; emotional, painful, honest, raw. I’d heard the book was great and yet I wasn’t prepared for all the emotions I would go through while reading it. The mom in me was so frustrated with Melinda’s situation and just wanted to hold her and help her. I worried that the book would end with a suicide (it did not) and was grateful when Melinda began to show signs of getting better, becoming empowered through a confrontation with another classmate, and ultimately finding her voice.

The subject matter is dark but it isn’t graphic in any way. Speak came out in 1999 and it is my understanding that it is taught in high schools throughout the country, which I think is great. Laurie Halse Anderson got Melinda’s voice just right- it does not sound like an adult trying to write like a kid. It’s a powerful read; one I would strongly recommend for teens, parents, and teachers alike.

I was fortunate enough to see Laurie Halse Anderson speak on a panel last weekend at the Festival of Books, and she said that many critics are calling her latest book, Wintergirls, her best novel since Speak, or better than Speak. She said it’s a challenge for an author when your first book is your best known work, and she said she was “Miss Crankypants” about that for a long time, but now she is grateful and feels so fortunate to be able to wake up and listen to the voices in her head each day and write down what they say. She is frequently asked what impact Speak has had on her life, and she said it changed everything- in writing Speak she found her voice and she found her “people”.

Thanks to Jill at Fizzy Thoughts for sharing this book with me! I loved it.

UPDATE:  Read my review of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson HERE.

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50 Responses

  1. Sounds like a great book for parents of preteens and teens, as well as the kids themselves! I hear she was good on the panel :)

    • She was good. I don’t know if I would let a preteen read it. My daughter, at 11, would not be ready. But I saw Speak at the junior high book fair, where my daughter will attend next year. I would say 13 or 14 would be the minimum age.

  2. All I can say is Wow! That books sounds very powerful.

  3. I so want to read this one too. I read WINTERGIRLS a few weeks ago and was blown away by it!

  4. Sounds painfully real! Your review makes me want to see how it all comes out!

  5. This book reminded me so clearly of high school. It’s such a good story- although vividly painful.

  6. The teen years can be so difficult for some kids. Sounds like a very emotional read.

    • But THIS kid should not have had a difficult time. She went through a horrible experience that caused everything to change. It was very emotional.

  7. I just read this too, and my 13 year old daughter read it afterwards. we both loved it. Exceptional reading. And writing of course!

  8. sounds like i have to check this one out. working in a high school, i can use all the help i can get when looking for credible, honest, well-written trade novels. i can count on you, lisa, to point me in the right direction!

    • Nat, I would say it’s a MUST for you. I’ve already passed it to a friend who is a middle school principal but if/when she returns it I would be happy to ship it out to you.

  9. Great review, Lisa. I want to read it!

  10. I am thinking this is a book I need to read. My girl is 12 and I am not prepared for the teenage angst and all that comes with it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  11. So, I clearly have to get my hands on something by Laurie Halse Anderson. I don’t think I’ve seen a negative review yet!

  12. Wonderful review, this sounds like a very intense book.

  13. I’ve loved her other work I’ve read so far, so I should probably go and get this one too.

  14. This is my “nightstand” book, and I agree with the others, it’s simply amazing. I’m so glad to hear that this book is being used in schools. Wintergirls is my next “nightstand book” pick!

  15. My daughter, who is not a reader, just finished this one and loved it. It may finally be the book to make her understand why I love books so much. If that’s the case, I will forever be in Halse Anderson’s debt.

  16. Good job on beating me to the review! I couldn’t have said it better. I might just have to link to you and call it good. ;-)

  17. This and Wintergirls are both books I really want to read sometime this year. They sound like such good books! I believe this was made into a movie if I’m not mistaken…

  18. Just Listen (Dessen) was very similar, and I liked it better than Speak. Have you read it?

  19. Another book sitting around waiting for me to read it! Great review Lisa…you’re a great reviewer!

  20. I can’t wait to read this one! It’s on my list, and I hope to find some time for it soon. Great review!

  21. I was at a signing somewhere about a few years ago when, on a whim, I decided to buy books for each of my four kids, literally, as I was about to walk out the door.

    Without any knowledge of the book or the author, nor a ton of time to put much thought into my selections, I grabbed SPEAK figuring it would be appropriate for my 14 year old daughter.

    She STILL talks about that book, referring to events in the world she inhabits shaded by the lessons she learned through the characters and story created by Anderson. She gave her copy to one of her teachers at school, and now it’s a standard reading selection for incoming Freshmen.

    I love books.

  22. Great review – this one is definitely going on ‘the list’!

  23. Okay, that’s two reviews of this book practically in a row in my feed reader… guess that’s the universe’s way of telling me to get off my butt and move it up the TBR pile. Great review!

  24. Great review! I have put this one on my daughter’s summer reading list. I think we would both enjoy it.

  25. This book sounds phenomenal and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Thanks so much for getting it on my radar!

  26. I enjoyed Speak when I read it a couple of years ago for a class. And how fortunate you were to get to hear her speak (ha!).

  27. I thought this was a powerful book. Nice review.

  28. I was leaving individ. comments but ran out of time.. thank you all for commenting. It’s a great book and one that will hit a lot of kids really hard, I think. In a good way.

  29. this was an awsome book and i will probably read all yoiur other books.i saw the movie and i thought the book was more detailed and specific!!

  30. ya im an 8th grader and we just got out of school so yeah we have too read this book as our honors assignment what school?

  31. […] down.  Gershow nailed Lydia’s complex adolescent voice.  It reminded me of Melinda’s voice in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  She’s smart, wry, sad, funny, damaged, and heartbreakingly real.  I […]

  32. […] it down. Gershow nailed Lydia’s complex adolescent voice. It reminded me of Melinda’s voice in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. She’s smart, wry, sad, funny, damaged, and heartbreakingly real. I […]

  33. […] down.  Gershow nailed Lydia’s complex adolescent voice.  It reminded me of Melinda’s voice in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  She’s smart, wry, sad, funny, damaged, and heartbreakingly real.  I […]

  34. […] books come from.  I bought this book on vacation in August when I ran out of books to read. I read Speak by LHA last spring and loved it, and had seen Wintergirls reviewed positively on a number of blogs. […]

  35. […] books come from.  I bought this book on vacation in August when I ran out of books to read. I read Speak by LHA last spring and loved it, and had seen Wintergirls reviewed positively on a number of blogs. […]

  36. Absolutely amazing book… loved it!

  37. this is amazing i loved it, i dont like reading but this was one that i loved for someone my age to read it really helps with high school im in gread 9 to and i really relatet to this book,but my life is a bit more completed i do relate to some of those things.But over all it was an amazing book i think it would be good for preteens going in to high school in a year or two i think it would be good for all ages!i loved it and i know alot of kids teen and adults will to!.!.!

  38. Melinda is a 9th grade student. The year before ,her life was perfect i guess you can say. but when she got invited to a party in August It got to wild for her, she was drunk . . and Andy Evans, or known as “IT” raped her. She can’t tell anyone. She’s scared. Everyone hates her now. she has no friends and the one who she thought was, left her to go with the Martas since she was so quiet and weird. She stops talking, skipping classes, she even has her own little escape room. Melinda, ends up in MISS. A class for students who don’t attend school . everyone notices this. . . Don’t want to spoil more. but the ending sucked. -.- disappointed.

  39. Really enjoyed this book – and your review. Hope you don’t mind, I’ve linked to your review here

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