But over the summer, something happened. She was the reason the cops busted the party. She was the one who called them. And she's the one carrying a secret that's suffocating the girl she used to be.
So Melinda starts high school with nobody. The outcast. Nobody to sit with. Nobody to talk to. Nobody to listen.
Speak is a modern YA classic. First published in 1999, it's won numerous awards and been made into a movie. It's also not an easy book to review. It's incredibly hard to explain the premise without giving too much away, and it's not a journey I want to spoil for anyone who hasn't read it yet. It's also difficult to write objectively about Speak because this isn't the type of book that I can easily detach myself from. It's a book that provokes an emotional response. Sadness, rage, hope: that's what this book is to me. It's raw and intense and it's beautiful.
Every now and then, I meet a character who becomes absolutely real to me. Melinda Sordino is one of those characters. To the outside world, she's a freak; the girl who called the cops at a party where there was underage drinking and has been ostracized ever since. The girl who chews on her own lips until scabs form. Somewhere deep down, she's an intelligent and compassionate girl with a sharp sense of humour. But there's a layer of trauma and guilt and confusion that is suffocating and silencing that girl. You know she's in there, but between her inability to confide in anyone and the inability of those around her to listen, she's silent. It's heartbreaking. It makes me want to scream for her.
If all this is beginning to sound a little dark, don't worry. There's a ray of hope in this novel, and it begins with art. While Melinda is finding it impossible to put her thoughts and emotions into words, her art teacher seems to sense that she has something she needs to express. Art helps Melinda to gradually come to terms with the burden she's carrying, and it also helps her to tell the reader things that she's not ready to give voice to as a narrator. Gradually, we learn Melinda's secret, and she finds the strength to face it herself. She finds a way to form the words.
Having read Speak I know that I'll be checking out more of Laurie Halse Anderson's work in the near future. Speak isn't the kind of book you escape into, and at times it's downright difficult to read, but it is compelling and ultimately positive. If you haven't read it, I really hope that you will. It's YA fiction that has something to say.