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Something has happened that has traumatized Melinda and transformed her from a good student with close friends into a withdrawn selective mute- she speaks only when absolutely necessary.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.

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 19

In this 19th volume of In Praise of Book Clubs, we hear from Sarah of the terrific blog, The Last Book I Read.  Here she talks about the book club she formed with other stay at home moms in her area.

I started my book club a little over a year ago.  As a stay at home mom of a then almost two year old I was craving the company of other women during the day who could talk about something other than their kids.  I went to a playgroup which I enjoyed, but I wanted a playgroup for ME.  And, while I have other girlfriends that I swap books with and talk books with all the time, I needed something in person and I wanted something during the daytime.  I wasn’t looking to get out of the house, but I was looking for better conversation.

So, I asked a couple friends and I put up a little sign and soon enough we had a group of 4.  We try to meet once a month and whoever hosts the group at her house gets to pick the book and also lead the discussion.  When we meet the kids go off and play together while we get to talk about the book.  We’re pretty informal-don’t really have any rules and it’s agreed that if you haven’t finished the book that’s ok.

One of the things I like about our group is that I think we don’t have the same exact reading tastes.  We like enough of the same books that it’s not a chore to read the month’s book (well, that’s not exactly always true), but we’ve all also been pushed into trying new things.  I prefer to choose books that we haven’t read before but it often happens that someone chooses a book she’s read before and wants the others to try.

Some of our selections have been The Memory Keeper’s DaughterNights of Rain and StarsWhen Rabbit Howls, Captain Corelli’s MandolinBelong to MeThe RoadThree Junes, and The Ice Queen.

Although it was not my intent at all, something that has naturally occurred is that we often talk about how we responded to a book as a mother of a young child.  For example, in our conversation about The Memory Keeper’s Daughter* we all found the deception of telling a mother her child had died was practically unbearable to contemplate.  Since having kids I’ve found myself even more emotional about death/kids/families in novels than I used to be (and that’s saying something because I’m an easy crier at books.)  My book group has shown me that I’m not the only one who’s become so sensitive to those topics.  [Our upcoming discussion is about Belong To Me, during which I cried and cried at the friend’s death imagining myself dying with my children around me.]

*(I like to steer clear of Oprah books when it comes to my picks, but we’ve actually read quite a few of them.  I hate to admit it but they usually are really easy to talk about and universally liked by us. I just have a thing about reading what everyone else reads.)

As a YA librarian I wanted to introduce my friends to some YA lit and chose Speak for my first book.  I thought the discussion we had about this book was one of our best yet.  A YA buddy had suggested it as being a good one for women to discuss because no matter who we are or were it was likely we could all think back to being a teenage girl and feelings of isolation.  This proved to be true!  I am looking forward to introducing some more YA titles into our mix, perhaps some Sarah Dessen or Shannon Hale.  I also think maybe we should try some sci-fi or fantasy since that is a genre we haven’t yet discussed.

We’ve definitely had some flops.  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was only read by one of us.  Two of us couldn’t get more than two chapters in.  When Rabbit Howls was so interesting in concept, but in reality nobody could get through it.  It was one of those books that you like someone to tell you about, but it turns out that that’s enough. And even though it’s topped book lists galore for the past two years not one of us liked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Nickel and Dimed was another choice that really prompted conversation.  Truthfully, though, our conversation ended up being a lot more about what we thought about Ehrenreich, cleaning services, and the economy, and not so much about the book as a work of writing.  I think sometimes that happens with non-fiction choices– you don’t talk about it as a book per se, but just about the content.

Thanks to Lisa for inviting me to post about my book group.  I hope it encourages other stay at home moms to form their own groups!

Blogger Bio:  My name is Sarah, I’m a thirty-six year old young adult librarian, who is presently a stay-at-home mom. I have two children, aged  three and 9 months.  We live in central New Jersey in a beautiful area with lots of fields and farms.  I’ve been an avid reader since childhood.  I read a ton of ya books (hence, ya librarian), but I do like adult books too. I like historical romances, general fiction, and anything set in a boarding school! My blog is The Last Book I Read.

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For a chance to win The Safety of Secrets by DeLaune Michel, click HERE