I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak this month in reaction to the Kavanaugh Hearings. Speak follows a teen girl’s first year of high school, after the summer she was raped by an older student. She deals with being an outcast, watching her high school have shifting identities, completing the crazy assignments of her teachers, and choosing when to speak or be silent.
Speak is a thoughtful, beautiful novel that is almost 20 years old. After finding that I loved it and seeing that it was relevant to current events, I made this list of reasons why you should read it.
1. Speak is a young adult classic.
If you regularly read young adult books, then you will benefit from reading the older books in the audience genre. Speak is considered a classic of YA literature, even making TIME‘s 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time list. In the rush to read the latest and greatest book, there are books published years ago that still hold relevance and are loved to this day. Speak is one of these novels.
2. It’s still taught and challenged in schools.
Teachers have written articles about their experiences teaching the novel in the classroom, such as one where responsibility came up in class discussion, and publishers have shared guides for teaching it. Other topics that can be talked about in the classroom are feelings of isolation, belonging, identity, and underage drinking.
As far as the book’s banning, it made the ALA’s top 100 banned and challenged books list for 2000-2009.
People are also researching and analyzing Speak. Here are two examples of this research:
- Malo-Juvera, Victor. The Effect of Young Adult Literature on Adolescents’ Rape Myth Acceptance. Dissertation, Florida International University, 2012. FIU Electronic Theses and Disserations, doi: 10.25148/etd.FI12041115.
- Pandansari, Katrin Rahma. The Cause and Effect in Melinda’s Traumatic Experiences: A Psychosocial Analysis in Anderson’s Speak. Thesis, Yogyakarta State University, 2014, http://www.eprints.uny.ac.id/17627/1/Katrin%20Rahma%20P%2009211144003.pdf.
3. Rape is still prevalent.
Since the major issue of the novel is Melinda’s rape and the aftermath of it, it has been the reason for people trying to ban the book. Rape is still prevalent, including among teenagers. Let’s look at the stats from Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN):
- “Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault.”
- “As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape.”
- “Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.”
- “Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.”
4. It’s an #OwnVoices novel.
According to Sadie Trombetta of Bustle, Anderson is writing a memoir in verse, called Shout, about her experience as a rape survivor, and it’s scheduled to be published in 2019. She knows very well what it is to be survivor, and that shows in Speak.
5. The novel has been adapted twice.
We first had the 2004 movie, starring Kristin Stewart, and it looks pretty accurate to the book, and some scenes are stronger and clearer in the movie than the novel. For example, the looming presence and threat of Andy Evans is more obvious on screen than on the page.
Speak: The Graphic Novel was released in February of this year, so we have another medium to experience Melinda’s story in.
Fun fact: According to this 2014 Book Riot interview, Speak has been translated into 27 languages.
6. Each chapter is short, like some blog posts.
With our shorter attention spans brought on by the Internet and social media, the short chapters highlight the important takeaway of the scene and make the content easily digestible. They also give you more places to stop if you have to keep pausing your reading to do something else.
7. On a broad scale, we have the #MeToo movement.
The #MeToo movement has taken great momentum in Hollywood and is working to reduce the shame of speaking about sexual assault and harassment and holding the offenders responsible for their actions.
I believe that the movement is one contributing factor in more YA books about sexual assault survivors getting published, like A Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake and I Have the Right To by Chessy Prout with Jenn Abelson. If you would like to read more books on the subject, Kristina from Kristina Reads made a list of books for understanding sexual assault.
8. It’s timely for the Kavanaugh hearings and Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Whatever your thoughts about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford or Judge Kavanaugh, his nomination and hearings brought sexual assault back into the spotlight. And the reactions were troubling. The one that stuck with me the most was one woman explaining it away with ages, hormones, and the now famous line: “Tell me what boy hasn’t done this in high school.” Whether you believe the allegation or not, we still live with a rape culture that still runs on “boys will be boys.”
The immediate connections I see between the novel and Dr. Ford’s testimony are a young teen girl getting sexually assaulted by an older high school boy at a house party and the survivors of both not saying anything about it right after it happened.
If you still don’t think this has anything to do with the Kavanaugh hearings, please read Kelly Roberts’ article about the novel and the hearings on The Conversation. She goes into more detail about the similarities between Dr. Ford’s testimony and Anderson’s novel.
9. There is hope and healing.
This is a bit of a spoiler alert, but Melinda is healing and coming to terms with her rape at the end of the book. She’s figuring out who she is and what she is ready to speak about. The last two paragraphs of the novel say,
The tears dissolve the last block of ice in my throat. I feel the frozen stillness melt down through the inside of me, dripping shards of ice that vanish in a puddle of sunlight on the stained floor. Words float up.
Me: “Let me tell you about it.” (Anderson 198)
She’s finally able to talk about it after confronting her rapist.
Whatever your politics or thoughts about the Kavanaugh Hearings, Speak is a must-read for the end of 2018. I highly recommend Speak to everyone. It’s well-crafted, has great symbolism, and it sensitively covers a difficult topic. What other trauma novels should get more attention?