Speak

Gulped this one down in an afternoon– teen lit seems to be where my heart is at these days. Melinda enters freshman year of high school with no friends because of a summer party turned bad. Her friend Rachel takes her to a senior party during the summer, where Melinda proceeds to have her first beers ever (aged 13) and ends up getting raped by Andy Evans (aka IT, the Beast). While a little heavy-handed on the whole rape theme, it’s good to continually put it out there as a reminder for the ladies to keep their wits (and voices) about them. Melinda tells no one of the rape, but calls 911 and the cops come to break up the party, launching her into loser-dom. She keeps her secret for the entire year, until she sees Rachel getting close to Andy and feels the need to warn her. Art class keeps her going, assigned the theme “trees”, she must create a representation of a tree that speaks to people. She also has a brief friendship with Heather, the new girl, whose aspirations to join the “Good groups” give insight into how the Marthas, etc. treat members lusting to join. What is the practical use of algebra, racist classes on immigration taught by Mr. Neck (anyone whose ancestors arrived after 1900 should be kicked out), Melinda’s crush on her lab partner David, her loss of voice and inability to speak because of the rape, family discord at home with mom rushing off to the department store downtown Syracuse and dad vegging out on the tv, bedroom in need of a makeover but not sure what imprint to place on it. The secret, old, janitor’s closet where she retreats and hangs posters of Maya Angelou (banned by the school district), turkey bone sculpture post-Thanksgiving feast debacle.
Great writing. The package is a bit too neatly tied up for my taste, but this is teen lit afterall.
Excerpt: page 103, 104:
“Mr. Freeman is having his own problems. He mostly sits on his stool and stares at a new canvas. It is painted one color, so blue it’s almost black. No light comes out of it or goes in, no shadows without light. Ivy asks him what it is. Mr. Freeman snaps out of his funk and looks at her like he just realized the room was full of students.
“Mr. Freeman: ‘It is Venice at night, the color of an accountant’s soul, a love rejected. I grew mold on an orange that color when I lived in Boston. It’s the blood of imbeciles. Confusion. Tenure. The inside of a lock, the taste of iron. Despair. A city with the streetlights shot out. Smoker’s lung. The hair of a small girl who grows up hopeless. The heart of a school board director…’
“He is warming up for a full-fledged rant when the bell rings. Some teachers rumorwhisper he’s having a breakdown. I think he’s the sanest person I know.”


auth=Laurie Halse Anderson
pub=1999
isbn=014131088X