speak book cover

Anderson, L.H. (2001). Speak. Canada: MacMillian.

Reader’s Annotation

Something terrible happened at the end of the summer before Melinda started her freshman year of high school. Now her best friends in the world won’t speak to her and she can barely stand to speak herself. Will Melinda make it through the school year unscathed? Will bad memory from summer fade so she can get on with her life or will Melinda have to raise her voice and take a stand?

Plot Summary

At the end of the summer between eighth and ninth grade Melinda and her best friends went to a party that ended with Melinda calling the cops. Now the whole high school knows who she is and they all hate her. Friendless and in pain Melinda is trying to negotiate all of the regular high school traumas while negotiating her horrible secret. She stops talking to her parents, and barely makes a noise in the classroom. Art is the only subject she particularly cares about, but she’s working on a final project she thinks sucks. Everyday she is faced with the accusatory glares of her old friends at best or perhaps even worse their complete obliviousness. The safest place for Melinda is in the janitor’s closet that she has requisitioned and repurposed for her own, and yet even as Melinda starts to surface and find herself that place comes close to being violated. Walk through the halls of Merryweather High with Melinda as she uncovers the truth and lies you’re taught in school.

Critical Evaluation

Speak is an incredibly powerful novel and the main character Melinda an excellent study of a young girl in pain, suffocated by and weighed down by her own inaction. Melinda slowly stops talking because she doesn’t feel like anyone cares enough about her to believe what has happened to her. Her parents are often feuding and even more often upset with or ignoring her. Her best friends from the year before are furious with her because of the phone call to the police and she’s been labeled as a pariah by the majority of the class. It is terrifying to think that a young woman could fall through the cracks so easily, but unfortunately not unthought or unheard of. More and more frequently we hear news stories of kids being bullied and pushed toward unspeakable acts of self harm and abuse. Where are the adults who should be looking out for these kids? Melinda gets called into the principal’s office a few times, is visited by the guidance counselor, and stuck in in-class detention. No one actually reaches out to her, the one teacher who tries to make a connection is the misfit art instructor who has rejected the majority of the administration’s policies. In the end the lesson that we are left with is that only you can save yourself, which Melinda eventually does, with no little thanks to the adults in her life.

While Melinda’s story can serve as a powerful story to young people today struggling with the decision to speak out again injustice, it also demonstrates that adults are largely untrustworthy and unreliable. As a parent to a daughter this is particularly unsettling, but I think can also serve as a worthwhile reminder. Pay attention to your kids, this book seems to scream. Cultivate bonds of trust and don’t let your life get in the way of your most important job, the one you signed up for when your teen was nothing but a dream, protecting your child.

Author Information

Laurie Halse Anderson was born in 1961 in upstate New York. After her early introduction to writing  poetry, second grade, she spent a great deal of her time reading all the books in her elementary school library, “the books took me everywhere” she said. She began her career as a freelance reporter but was largely unsuccessful until she joined the critical support group, Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Her published work varies largely, from picture books to young adult literature, to historical fiction as well as the popular American Girl Wild at Heart series, featuring Maggie and the happenings surrounding her grandmother’s veterinary office. Anderson lives in upstate New York with her second husband, their four children and a dog.


Young Adult Fiction, High School, Trauma, Abuse

Curriculum Ties

Supports reading curriculum goals for grades 9 and 10:

3.3 Analyze interactions between main and subordinate characters in a literary text (e.g., internal and external conflicts, motivations, relationships, influences) and explain the way those interactions affect the plot.

3.6 Analyze and trace an author’s development of time and sequence, including the use of complex literary devices (e.g., foreshadowing, flashbacks).

3.11 Evaluate the aesthetic qualities of style, including the impact of diction and figurative language on tone, mood, and theme, using the terminology of literary criticism.

Supports reading curriculum goals for grades 11 and 12:

3.3 Analyze the ways in which irony, tone, mood, the author’s style, and the “sound” of language achieve specific rhetorical or aesthetic purposes or both.

Booktalk Ideas

Anderson refers several times to the scabs on Melinda’s mouth. What are these scabs represent?

Why does Melinda stop talking?

Reading Level/Interest Age 


Challenge Issues

This books discusses several sensitive topics namely sexual abuse, bullying and underage drinking.

A clearly written collection development policy should offer readers and the library some protection. It is not the position of the library to police what children are reading, we trust that parents and their children have established guidelines for consumption. We support the ALA Bill of Rights and a child’s freedom to read. Forms for reconsideration are available for patron’s to fill out should they object to the material in the collection, all final decisions are made by the board after review.

Alternate suggested titles are: Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

Reason for inclusion

Excellent title that handles realistic teen issues.


Anderson, S.H & Anderson, L.H. (2008). Laurie. Retrieved from: http://madwomanintheforest.com/laurie/.

Laurie Halse Anderson. (2010). In Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/

One response to “Speak

  1. Pingback: Index | Shortish and Bookish

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