Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book somehow managed to cover serious topics while maintaining an eloquent mix of realistic, dark, and sarcastically funny delivery.

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This book somehow managed to cover serious topics while maintaining an eloquent mix of realistic, dark, and sarcastically funny delivery.

Genre: YA, contemporary

Rating: 5/5 stars

Favorite quote: “You have to know what you stand for, not just what you stand against.”

First lines: “It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.”

Melinda’s freshman year is not going well. The entire school hates her because she called the police at a party back in August. Abandoned by all of her friends and considered an unapproachable weirdo by everyone else, Melinda starts retreating into herself and talking less and less. She never told anyone the real reason she called the cops that day. No one would listen anyway. But as Melinda’s mental health deteriorates and she realizes that someone else could be in danger, she decides she has to say something.

I kind of wish I read this book in freshman year, instead of- wait, I’m an upperclassman now? Wow.

Like Melinda, I HATED freshman year and didn’t have many friends. Heck, I still don’t have many friends (because, apparently, I “study all day and it’s not fair”). My high school experience has undoubtably been better than hers, though.

I loved Melinda’s cynical voice and the stream-of-consciousness writing style. It kind of reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye (another book I love). Example:

“I cut class, you cut class, he, she, it cuts class. We cut class, they cut class. We all cut class. I cannot say this in Spanish because I did not go to Spanish today. Gracias a dios. Hasta luego.

And:

“Sometimes I think high school is one long hazing activity: if you are tough enough to survive this, they’ll let you become and adult. I hope it’s worth it.”

This book was heartbreaking but simultaneously uplifting. Since it’s written in 1st-person, you feel everything with Melinda and get a strong emotional connection to her. I read the entire thing in one sitting, and when I finished I felt a strange mix of melancholy and relief.

Though the subject matter was dark, the humor was genuinely charming and there was something about the writing that made you want to keep reading.

I loved Anderson’s exploration of the theme of silence and the pervasive need for self-expression. If you look carefully, the writing is full of references to this idea.

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.”

Ultimately, the theme is manifested in the title- Speak. The very heart of the novel is Melinda’s character growth and desperation to share her truth.

This is a timeless and vital message, and it’s fittingly relevant to this blog because- this sounds SO corny- the main reason I started blogging was to express myself.

While me wanting to spew my opinions on the Internet isn’t so closely comparable to Melinda’s struggles, the connection is still there: self-expression is exceedingly important.

While some of the high school dynamics weren’t totally accurate, I found this book very relatable overall. I loved the humor, and the simplistic writing style made it feel even more realistic. I was truly convinced that these were Melinda’s thoughts.

I have read other books by Laurie Halse Anderson, but this one was definitely the best. I would recommend this to anyone, but specifically freshmen in high school.

10 comments on “Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson”

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