Speak is a controversial book, it’s been banned from several libraries and high school curricula for its supposedly ‘pornographic nature’. I have read a lot of young adult fiction lately and Speak is actually one of the novels with the least sexual content, so I don’t get this. Aside from that, I’m really not a fan of censorship and that’s putting it mildly…
But let’s talk about the story first. Speak by author Laurie Halse Anderson is about Melinda, a high school freshman who struggles with a traumatic experience: being raped. She sinks into a depression and closes herself off from almost everyone, leading to the point where she speaks as little as possible.
It sounds like a depressing topic and it is, but it’s also an incredibly important one. The book isn’t about the rape per se, it’s about Melinda trying to process what has happened to her and not being able to. It’s about trauma and hurt and pain and it’s described in a very realistic way. I’ve known girls who had been through situations like this and while they all coped in different ways, Melinda’s story rang true to me.
You can’t really ‘love’ or even ‘like’ a book like this considering the topic, but it’s a ‘great’ read. Melinda’s voice is authentic and real and even though you might get frustrated with her at times, you experience her pain and struggles. I’d say this is literature and nothing less. I personally would have ranked it higher than number 26 of the Top 100 of best Teen Fiction.
Critics have said that the book ‘glorifies drinking, cursing, and premarital sex’. It doesn’t. It shows these things happening (though the language is actually pretty tame, can’t remember coming across any profanities), but isn’t that the reality of high school life? It doesn’t promote them however. And if any teen fiction book with drinking, cursing, premarital sex etc in it is being censored, there won’t be much left to read I’m afraid. That doesn’t mean I’m happy with the way these topics are portrayed in some books, but Speak actually isn’t one of them.
In a time and age where young people are getting confused over what rape is and how deeply it impacts victims, Speak is a book that teens should read and that they should talk about. Other topics in the book that warrant discussion are Melinda’s relationship with her parents, friendship, cliques, gossip and more.
I would recommend this book to you as youth leader and/or parents and I would recommend reading this book with a high school small group, especially with girls (be sensitive as it might impact teens with a sexual trauma in your group!). Be sure to read it yourself first. The edition I read offers good questions for discussions at the back of the book, you can add some more from a Christian perspective. There’s also a movie made from the book starring Twilight’s star Kirsten Stewart, but I haven’t seen that one.