Madeline's Reviews > Speak

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
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's review
Apr 16, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: assigned-reading, kids-and-young-adult

1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress code will be enforced.
4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
5. Our football team will win the championship this year.
6. We expect more of you here.
7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.
8. Your schedule was created with your needs in mind.
9. Your locker combination is private.
10. These will be the years you will look back on fondly."

I'm trying to think of ways to go about describing this book, and I'm not really sure how to start. It's dark, depressing, terrifying, and amazing. Everyone should read it. You might hate it (and I'll get to you), but you must read it.

The story starts with Melinda, the narrator, starting 9th grade. Everyone, even her old friends, won't talk to her. It's revealed that during the summer Melinda called the cops on a party and it got busted - a few people got arrested, and now everyone hates her. Something happened to Melinda at that party, something she hasn't told anyone about. She retreats into herself, withdrawing from school, her family, and any possibility of friendship. It isn't until the middle of the story that we learn what really happened at the party, but Anderson gives us a big fat hint in this scene where Melinda and her lab partner dissect a frog in biology class:
"Our frog lies on her back. Waiting for a prince to come and princessify her with a smooch? I stand over her with my knife. Ms. Keen's voice fades to a mosquito whine. My throat closes off. It's hard to breathe. I put out my hand to steady myself against the table. David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet. I have to slice open her belly. She doesn't say a word. She is already dead. A scream starts in my gut - I can feel the cut, smell the dirt, leaves in my hair."

Holy god. Remember what I said about the terrifying stuff?

The main reason I loved this book is because I was very, very similar to Melinda in high school. Her attitude about school, her cynicism towards the whole "high school is the best time of your life" crap, her opinions about classes and teachers and the uselessness of guidance counselors...that was me. I kind of wished I could transport myself into the story, so Melinda and I could sneer at pep rallies together.

And then I felt bad, because nothing bad happened to me in high school. Nothing like the stuff Melinda went through. She had a reason for being so withdrawn and unhappy and angry about everything. I didn't. It's sort of an unpleasant realization - wow, I was a total snot for absolutely no reason. I was okay with this eventually, but some people might not be. I can imagine someone criticizing this story for being too emo, or saying that Melinda was too much of a downer.

(Okay, I didn't want to give away spoilers, but I can't talk about my next point without revealing some stuff. So, just to be clear...


Then again, they could be like a certain reviewer YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE who wrote, and I quote, "I'm so sick of this [sic:] stories about girls who got raped and spend the entire book pitying themselves."

*takes breath, counts to ten.*

Apparently Laurie Halse Anderson gets this a lot. My edition of the book has an interview with her, and she said, "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."

I'm...they...why...what the fuck. I think I need to go sit in a corner and do some yoga breaths, be back later.

Read for: Social Justice in Young Adult Literature
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 1, 2010 – Finished Reading
April 16, 2010 – Shelved
April 16, 2010 – Shelved as: assigned-reading
April 16, 2010 – Shelved as: kids-and-young-adult

Comments (showing 7-56)

message 56: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Great review. There was also a movie made of this a few years ago with Kristen Stewart (before she became Bella but after she did Panic Room). I caught it on Lifetime a while back and thought it was pretty well-done. I can't remember why I gave the book only 3 stars though. Something about it sort of bugged me, but I feel that way about a lot of YA books, so it might have just been my general down-with-YA attitude which was way worse in 2004 when I read this than it is now.

message 55: by Alex (new)

Alex Really? People still wonder why rape is upsetting? Who are these people?

Nice review. And you should stop by the Thread of Dire Judgment so we can tear you to pieces for giving Anna Karenina three stars. (I didn't read your review 'cause I'm reading it right now and I don't want the spoilers.)

message 54: by Alex (new)

Alex Also: I find that 1001 Books list suspicious. There are 12 books there from before 1700. I guess it's valid to make a list that leans toward more recent stuff, but for me, a List Of Important Books that doesn't have Gilgamesh on it is being willfully contrary.

Madeline El - one reason I can remember not totally loving the book is because, with the exception of Melinda, all the characters are mostly one-dimensional. The art teacher grated on me in particular for some reason - mainly because Anderson was obviously trying so hard to create Mr. Keating 2.0 from Dead Poets Society., and it didn't really work.

Alex - my Anna Karenina review isn't really that spoiler-tastic; I just didn't want to ruin the ending in case someone hadn't heard about what she does at the end.
And thank you for your invitation, but I will certainly not be stopping by the Thread of Dire Judgment. I stand by my 3-star rating, and after you finish the book and read my review you are welcome to challenge me in the comments. I will be more than happy to engage in literary fisticuffs over the book.

Also: yeah, the List isn't great. In fact, it's not even that good. But goals give my life purpose, so here we are.

message 52: by Alex (new)

Alex Literary fisticuffs are my favorite!

I'm a goal-oriented person too, so I feel you there. And I am trying to work my way through Every Important Book Ever. But that list is in my head.

message 51: by Cynthia (new) - added it

Cynthia You WERE a snot in high school, sweetie. But at least now you are self-actualized. Hooray for learning about yourself in college!

Madeline Thanks, Mom.

message 49: by Alex (new)

Alex Man, I wish my mom would come on this site with me. I've tried to make her do it. She could tell you all what a perfect little angel I was.

message 48: by Cynthia (new) - added it

Cynthia Careful what you wish for Alex. Most moms I know are brutally honest. And we like to speak our mind. What's the matter, were you born in a barn? And let that be a lesson to you, young man. Don't make me stop the car! Your mom might just tell us what you were really like as a child.

message 47: by Alex (new)

Alex I spent a lot of my childhood in a converted barn in the woods, so while I wasn't born in one I was raised in it. So that explains a lot.

I was a snot in college too.

message 46: by Cynthia (new) - added it

Cynthia Alex, that sounds like a lovely childhood! Sounds like your mom taught you to love books.

message 45: by Alex (new)

Alex Indeed she did. And yeah, I loved that place. Drove by it a few years ago and was amazed at how tiny and ramshackle it is; at the time I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world to get to live out in the woods.

My mom and I read Wolf Hall together early this year. Hopefully we'll read more stuff together, too - that was pretty fun.

Madeline Hey, I'm reading Wolf Hall right now! I'm about halfway through and loving it.

message 43: by Alex (new)

Alex Make your mom read it too! Yeah, it's a cool book.

Steven LOL. I'm in your review! I don't really think I need to defend myself or my review or even that statement, to be honest. I don't like these kind of stories. The book had no point to me, and I didn't think the way she handled the situation was that realistic. I didn't like how it took so long to find out why she acted the way she did, and even when the big secret was felt empty. MELINDA felt empty. The character herself had no heart, no likability, no relate ability, no purpose. The writing was clumsy, and the book was soiled by its watered-down theme and unfunny humor. I'm not sick of these stories because I can't comprehend why a rape victim would be upset or want to isolate herself or run away from help or keep it a secret. I hate these stories because of the way they're executed and how simple they've become. I don't understand how you, or anyone, could REALLY relate to Melinda when she was neither developed or given any real depth. Contrary to what you said in a comment, I felt like ALL of the characters were one-dimensional. I really do hope that you were quoting me, 'cause if not than this rant will feel a little out of place. I'm pretty sure it was me, though, being that you quoted me right down to the typo's.

Madeline Yeah, I was quoting you. And I'm sorry you didn't connect with Melinda; I honestly did, and felt that she was very well developed (and I thought she was funny). The other characters are one-dimensional, but I think that has more to do with Melinda's self-centered narration than the actual skill of the writer. I'm sorry that you didn't like the book, but am not really surprised - I can understand why someone might not be as impressed by the story as I was. We're all entitled to our own opinion etc.

Sophia Steven, as i am assuming u r not a girl, all i can say is... well, i am not going to say it. but i believe u r a self centered BOY who will NEVER understand how it is to be under estimated by men and over powered. u kno wat? when u get raped urself (which personally i dont actually want to happen to anyone) then say u have the same opinion about why girls are upset.

message 39: by Cynthia (new) - added it

Cynthia Madeline, I just watched a video of this author reading a poem she wrote, "Listen," a response to the thousands of letters people have sent her in the 10 years since this book came out.

You can find the poem on Anderson's web site. She's also on Goodreads. On her latest blog entry she writes about efforts to ban this book from schools in Missouri--one minister called the rape scenes "pornographic." Book banning makes me so stabby.

Madeline Not just book banning, but wanting to ban a book because you think rape scenes are arousing. I saw an article about it the other day and am reposting it here.

message 37: by Cynthia (new) - added it

Cynthia The same post I saw, and Anderson's poem is toward the bottom. Very moving stuff.

Natalie Do guys seriously think it's FUN to get raped?
What is wrong with the world.

Cassie Caudillo cool review. love the part with the ten lies. totally true!!!

message 34: by Blanca (new)

Blanca I remember this part in the book. It was at the beginning of the book..this is true, teachers say this at the beginning of freshman year.. Melindas life was depressing and hard at the same time, she was an outcast for something she did to defend her.. its a really good book ! i reccomend it :)

message 33: by Christine (new) - added it

Christine Marie I love your 10 lies. So true. I am a bit similar like that in the way that I don't believe any of their nonsense for a bit. I just tell it like it is.

message 32: by Dee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dee Great review lol

Lauren Viddler Love the review!!! Need to read this book again. This is the best book review I've read for quite a while!! Lol

message 30: by Christine (new) - added it

Christine Marie Totally. And the dress code thing is totally 100% true. Probably the most of all of them.

message 29: by Lucy (new)

Lucy Barras Hi I'm Lu im 11-14 and I get content bullying dayly I think I'm too young to read this book but I can sure relate to it with the the in closing your self.

message 28: by Christine (new) - added it

Christine Marie I would be taking some yoga breaths if I were you too Madeline. I feel ya.

message 27: by Ally (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ally Great review!

message 26: by A.b (new) - rated it 4 stars

A.b Really great review, I loved how you opened it with the lies they tell you about school. After reading the book I also felt like now I know how easy I have it. I can never relate to anything that terrible.

message 25: by Gah (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gah I agree, everyone should read this! It brings the reader into the mindset of so many teenagers these days, most are not as extreme, though. Melinda's character is someone that everyone needs to try to understand.

message 24: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Do men really ask her why she was so upset about being raped? Men cannot possibly think like this. I mean the majority of men, can they? I'm a guy and I absolutely hate rape with every ounce of my soul. I can empathize although never truly understand what a victim of rape goes through. I have always thought of it as a "little murder" because it kills it's victim each and every single day. Of course being murdered is much worse, at least you can live and still hopefully move forward to find happiness and love along with healing. I just can't believe men don't get it? It's not sex! It's not hot, the girl does not want it, ask for it nor does she like it. it's not pleasurable, it's painful and degrading. It's Evil! Seriously. Do other men truly think that highly of themselves? Just sickening that anyone would ask such an asinine question.

Ashton Good

message 22: by Kumari (new) - added it

Kumari High school is very, very difficult for a lot of people. Its a time you are extremely hormonal, trying to separate from your parents, find your identity, decide what you want to do for a living - all the while constantly having others judge you, compare you, mean girl you, and jockey for position using you as a jumping board, if you are not outright harassed and bullied or threatened. And, your brain and body haven't even finished developing, yet! It's difficult even if you fit in, which often means supressing your individuality. This is when people are separated into sheeple and the rest of us who actually make things happen and progress human kind.

I did the sneering thing in high school, too, but it was because I did not fit in. I wasn't an outcast, by any means, but I was learning that my sexual orientation was different than most others.

More importantly, tho, I was incredibly bright. Also, creative with many of my influences trying to jam me into a very rigid box, which they perceive as safety.

Many people who are very bright simply always feel as if they don't belong, or fit in. Technically, we don't. We are the innovators, the millionaires, the leaders, the philosophers, the scientists, and the artists of all types.

The ones who fit in so well and celebrate their social events end up as the secretaries, the salesmen, soccer moms, cops, soldiers, and bankers. They maintain the status quo, but they also keep us there.

message 21: by Kumari (new) - added it

Kumari Oh, and the movie is awesome! Definitely check it out :-)

Katie Greene That was a great review! This is the first book I've read front to back! Then I saw the movie and loved it even more!!

Michelle Grimm I love this book I can relate to Melinda so much the only thing is I would not use people like she used heather who I personality hate as a character

message 18: by Gulali (new) - added it

Gulali Kakar the greatest one is we are here to help you when the truth is they are ready to collect some gossip.......

message 17: by IronicUnicorn (new)

IronicUnicorn My mom wouldn't let me read this book. So sad that she thinks I can't handle this type of stuff.

Madeline Always read what you think you cannot handle.

Brandnisha Ok if you don't read this book than there is something wrong with you.

message 14: by Jackie (new) - added it

Jackie "they ask me why Melinda was so upset about being raped"
WHAT THE HELL is wrong with some people?

message 13: by Kirstie (new) - added it

Kirstie This review has definitely pushed this book to the top of my to read pile.

Brigid Ramirez Great Review!! I agree with you. Some might find a connection with Melinda and others will not. Just because people might not find a connection with this book, does not mean they shouldn't read it. It's a good book and a great story to share.

Blythe Graziano I just finished reading this book and although the subject matter was tough, I loved the way Melinda describes the reality of high school. It's really not all it's cracked up to be and I love how honest it was.

Nicole "They ask me why Melinda was so upset about being raped."

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Go read the article that just came out about the young woman who directly addressed her rapist during his sentencing for an incident that happened at a frat party. *rape, assault and other trigger-y things are discussed in the woman's statement in incredible detail. It's a very moving read, but you have been warned.*

This. Is the reason people get upset about being raped. It's a non-consensual sexual attack that robs the victim of their privacy, bodily autonomy, confidence, social relationships, intimacy, pride, dignity, and security, among many other things. They have to live with the memories of their attacker for the rest of their lives, while (assuming the disturbing trend continues) they watch their attacker, likely a popular athletic or academic star, or someone of a similar noble reputation, get away with a slap on the wrist because of how a conviction and the appropriate punishment could destroy their life. Um, hello? What about the OTHER life that was destroyed by your senseless and completely unnecessary action. And it was a conscious decision - rape by definition cannot be an accident.

Dammit, I'm angry now. :) A sign of a truly great book and an awesome review.

Blackwidow I'm sorry but that's not how you spell it, it's daily not dayly. Your never too young to read this book because if your 11-14, its on your level of reading. I think this book was amazing and everybody should read it. Men and boys shouldn't get away with rape because it's not a minor thing that supposed to be swept under the carpet just so it won't ruin the perpetrators life, the woman who are victimized by these kinds of crimes lives are the ones that are ruined and no one should have to go through what Melinda went through. Men can be very selfish.

Luke Chinman I had the same edition and I totally agree. I needed to be said!!

Elyse SUCH a wonderful review --and an AWESOME book..............I'm late to book........but sooooooooooooo glad I didn't miss it. THANK YOU for this great review!!! xoxo

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