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.


Willa said...

Thanks for reviewing this book. I have somehow missed the other reviews of it but it is going straight on by TBR list. It sounds really good.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think you're absolutely right that no matter how much adults don't want it to be true, that is the world teens move in, and they should be able to think about it and discuss it and get prepared. And if these censoring adults would talk to kids about it instead, it would be so much more helpful!

bermudaonion said...

I read this last year and thought it was fantastic! I would never want to ban it - I would be thrusting it into teen-agers hands given the chance. Great review.

Zibilee said...

I have actually just bought a copy of this book and am really looking forward to reading it. The buzz on it has been electric for so long that I feel like it's one I shouldn't miss. I also really want to read Halse's Wintergirls, which I understand is also about some pretty sensitive issues. I am so glad to see that you posted about this book! It's shameful that people are trying to ban this, and other great works of literature.

Blodeuedd said...

Good review. I would like to read this one, cos that statement he made about it just made me so mad

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the format of this book and I appreciated the powerful message it portrayed.

Literary Feline said...

It would seem that way, wouldn't it, Marie (that this book is the poster child for Banned Book Week this year)? Even I jumped on the band wagon and read this one. And I confess I bought and read this book specifically because of all the fuss being kicked up over it.

I agree that many kids could probably relate to this book on some level--the isolation, keeping a secret, etc.

Michelle said...

This is such a fantastic book. One that is both supportive and educational while being an all around great read. It continually boggles my mind that people feel the need to take the control over others choices out of their hands.