Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

speakbook2.jpgToday was my book club day. It was my turn to host and my choice was Speak. I knew I wanted to get the group to try a YA book and a YA friend suggested this as a good choice. I totally agreed because I think this is not only a really well written book, but for adults not used to reading YA fiction, it is a pretty easy one to get into and relate to.

And that’s the beauty of this novel. You don’t have to be in Melinda’s predicament to relate to her feelings of isolation, to understand not being seen or heard, to understand the heartbreak of losing friends. Anyone who was ever an adolescent understands that. One of the interesting things we talked a lot about, that I don’t think I’ve ever talked about when discussing this with younger teens, was the idea that many of the friends Melinda lost when she started high school may not entirely have been due to the party incident. We all remembered the transition to high school as a time when we found new friends and drifted right away from old friends. So, while Melinda sees everyone deserting her as only related to the incident, we all saw it as only part of the reason. As observers looking in we also felt that a couple of her old friends would have been willing to be friendly to her, but she had just shut down so much. It was also interesting to us that the only person to say to her “you are depressed and need help”, Heather, was outsider and not really a close friend. Although Heather turned out to be fickle and shallow, she was certainly accurate in assessing Melinda.

I had read this book when it came out and I’ve heard the author speak as well as had the good fortune to meet her. This is a title I also booktalked frequently. It’s been quite a few years though since I read it, and it was very interesting to reread it and compare the actual book to what it had become in my head. I had forgotten:

how funny it is: Anderson’s writing style has a wonderful sarcastic wit, present in her other novels as well and useful here for keeping the story from getting too dark

how the school teachers are described: Mr. Neck is so vividly realized in my mind, as are the English teacher and the principal. These secondary characters bring humor to the story and also show off Melinda’s powers of observation

how well written it is: the structure of the story–divided into marking periods, and then into small sections–suits the novel so well. Also, I just think she’s an overall great writer, using words ever so well, and drawing the story out at just the right pace.

I’m so glad for myself that I reread this, and for my book club that I brought some YA lit into it. I’m hoping we’ll read more in the future. Another friend pointed out that they probably haven’t read The Giver. Unheard of to me as a librarian, but if you’re not in the library world and don’t have older children reading it in school, how would you have come across it? And that is a book that surely we could discuss for days on end…

And finally, a plug for Fever 1793 and Catalyst, also by Laurie Halse Anderson, and also wonderful books.


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