Thursday, December 2, 2010

YA Book Review: Speak

To review a YA novel like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, which over one million have read, is like reviewing this thing called the internet.  It's gonna be big!  However, the book has now reached its ten-year anniversary and it is worth revisiting since there is now a new generation of YA reader who may not have read it.  Since Speak, Anderson has written four more YA novels and four books which fall under the category of historical thriller.  There have also been 16 children's book written by Anderson, since Speak.

I'm just trying to give you a reminder to make sure it is on your bookshelf so kids can pick it up.

It is the story of teenage girl, Melinda, who lives with a painful secret and struggles to keep it buried within her. If she can keep it buried, she can forget it ever happened. The novel moves us through Melinda's freshman year of high school; there are four sections each labeled as First Marking Period, Second Marking Period, Third Marking Period, and Fourth Marking Period.  As the school year progresses, we witness her grades plummet, her social life grows worse and worse, until she is alone and barked at by adults.  There are plenty of get-your-act-together-young-lady moments which further drives a wedge between her and any adult who should be helping her.

Melinda's painful secret is that she was raped at a party just before she started high school.

Anderson notes at the end of the novel:
I have gotten one question repeatedly from young men.  These are guys who liked the book, but they are honestly confused.  They ask me why Melinda was so upset about being raped.
The  first dozen times I heard this, I was horrified.  But I heard it over and over again.  I realized that many young men are not being taught the impact that sexual assault has on a woman.  They are inundated by sexual imagery in the media, and often come to the (incorrect) conclusion that having sex is not a big deal.  This, no doubt, is why the number of sexual assaults is so high.
 Yet it is Anderson's comment on the knee-jerk reaction of adults which should give us greater pause:
I am also shocked by adults who feel that rape is an inappropriate topic to discuss with teenagers.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 44 percent of rape victims are under the age of 18 and 46 percent of those victims are between the ages of 12-15.  It makes adults uncomfortable to acknowledge this, but our inability to speak clearly and openly about sexual issues endangers our children.  It is immoral not to discuss this with them.
The novel clearly comes from the heart and handles the issue of rape sensitively and absolutely within the bounds of what a 13 or 14 year old can handle.

I remember, fondly, a former student who sat on the school board during her senior year as the representative of our student body.  The issue of sexual education came up as did several books in our library.  From what I understand, she listened and as the conversation tilted heavily towards erasing any frank discussion or lessons on sex from the middle school curriculum she asked a simple question which went something like this: all in favor of allowing kids to learn about sex, as well as the STDs, pain, depression, and loneliness which can be caused by sex, all by themselves, raise their hand...because that is what I hear.  They stared at her; my principal said he smiled, proud of her.  No one raised their hand.  Fortunately, the conversation started all over again.  I am still in contact with this former student; she is in her mid 20s now and proves to be a wise old soul time and time again.

I want to leave the blog with another thought written by Anderson at the end of her novel:
Literature is the safe and traditional vehicle through which we learn about the world and pass on values from one generation to the next.  Books save lives.
Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.  Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.  They need us to be brave enough to give them great books so they can learn how to grow up into the men and women we want them to be.
Check your shelves.  This is a book deserving of a place on it.  Over one million have been served already.

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to let you know that I've been enjoying your reviews and your dedication to bringing literature into your classroom. (Not to mention, Mitali Perkins rocks!)