Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week REVIEW: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. 10th Anniversary edition published 2009 by Farrar Strauss Giroux. Young Adult. Fiction.

Laurie Halse Anderson's acclaimed young adult novel Speak seems to be the poster child for the 2010 Banned Books Week season. The book has been denounced as "soft porn" by one Missouri man, and has been the subject of other challenges as well (as have other books Anderson has written). Book bloggers across the spectrum have been writing about the book (see the bottom of this post for links) and there is even a Twitter campaign to raise awareness of the book through a "Twibbon" campaign where Twitter users attach a graphic "Speak Loudly" to their avatars.

Then there's the book itself. As regular readers know, I don't read a lot of young adult books; I picked Speak up at a library booksale this past weekend out of curiosity and read it cover to cover the same day. A profoundly moving story of a young rape survivor navigating her first year of high school, it's a tough but important book that anyone with a secret can relate to.

Melinda Sordino starts her first day of high school in Syracuse, New York, ostracized from her group of friends after she called the police during a wild party at the end of the summer. Some of the kids got arrested and lost jobs or received other, unwanted notoriety as a result; others just resent her and want nothing to do with her. Her own friends won't talk to her and she's left trying to befriend the new girl in school, Heather, whose loyalty cannot be counted upon either. Melinda's parents are self-absorbed and fractious and her teachers are largely indifferent. She sinks into a depression, watches as other students speak up for themselves and finds some consolation in her art class. And she can't tell anyone what happened to her at that party.

I think lots of kids have things they can't talk about- maybe something going on at home, or a painful dynamic in their friendships, or a trauma or secret shame that can't be aired but which infects them and weighs them down- and therefore I think the topics and themes addressed in Speak will have a lot to say to both teens and adults. Anderson does a wonderful job showing the pain of secrets, the pain of ostracism and the cruelty that teenagers show to each other. She also shows the indifference and cruelty of adults.

I think the formula for getting a book challenged is usually: teenagers + sex + drugs + a general lack of respect for adult authority = someone's not going to like it. But that's also the reality that a lot of kids live, and that's the world that Speak is set in. I found Speak to be a very compelling, affecting read and I would recommend it certainly to readers of YA but also to readers of adult fiction looking to try an accomplished, important YA novel. It's a quick read and one that I think you'll be glad you picked up.

Here are some other links to blog posts about Speak:

Laurie Halse Anderson's blog post This guy thinks SPEAK is pornography.
Buried in Books Banned Books Week Challenge.
Bart's Bookshelf Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
I am the Lizard Queen! Banned/Challenged Book Profile: Speak.
Things Mean A Lot: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson.
She is Too Fond of Books: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson (guest post).
Non-Fiction Five Challenge: Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson.

Got another one? Leave a comment or send me an email and I'll add it to the list.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.