In Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA novel, Speak, we are introduced to the character of Melinda, and follow her through her first year of high school. Normally a time where teenagers start on the quest of “finding themselves,” Melinda’s freshman year is anything but that. Still trying to get a grasp on events from what was supposed to be an innocent summer party where she called the police then fled, Melinda starts off the school year with no friends – they’re all furious at her for the police and don’t understand/know the situation (she didn’t tell a soul) – and in a state of depression. She befriends the new girl, Heather, who has no knowledge of the past summer, only to have the friendship thrown in her face partway through the year, when Heather becomes involved in a popular clique.
As the school year goes by, Melinda’s grades slip more and more, and she retreats into herself, ending up speaking as little as possible which frustrates her parents and teachers. Melinda cannot run away from the thoughts inside her own head that keep her silent, and it seems that everywhere she goes, she cannot get away from the one person that is the cause of all of her pain: he’s everywhere. The only place where she seems to open up is in her art class, but is that enough to bring her back to life and save her?
Speak is not just a book for adolescence. It’s really a book for all ages that everyone should read because it can mean different things to different people. It can help a parent whose child suddenly becomes withdrawn, allowing them to notice signs for help. It can help a teenager (or anyone who is being abused or was abused) to recognize that it wasn’t their fault, but also, that they themselves cannot stay silent, they have to speak in order for their cries to be heard and in order to start healing.