Banned Book Club is a meme I host where we read one historically challenged book a month. We support free speech and fight censorship every chance we get. Join our Goodreads group and DM me on Twitter to join our group chat.
Book of the month: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Banned for: Soft pornography, glorifies drinking, cursing, and premarital sex
Trigger warning: Rape
“Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.”
From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.
In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.
I first read Speak a good 6 or 7 years back. I remember thinking the novel was powerful and so ahead of its time. I knew it was a powerful story; something that everyone had to read.
In 2018, I started the Banned Book Club and Speak was one of the first books I recommended to our members. This was a book that we just HAD to read.
Why do I love this book so much?
I’ve noticed that a milestone in adult female friendships is exchanging stories of street harassment and the sleazy people we meet while commuting. I don’t know if this is just something that happens in my life or if all female friendships are like this. But one woman brings up an incident that happened to them, and then everyone else tells their own story too.
Girls, from a young age, start discussing with friends about the creepy people they meet. We walk back home together from school because there’s strength in numbers. We whisper to each other about the creepy art teacher in school, the lecherous janitor, the teammate at work who makes us uncomfortable with his stares.
But what about instances where you don’t speak up? When it’s a powerful person who’s harassing you and you don’t want to cause a scene? The #MeToo movement helped with that, felling one powerful man after another. Conversations have become easier, thanks to this empowering movement. But almost 20 years back, a novel tried to do just that. It showed us the importance of speaking up, and for that, this book will always have a special place in my heart.
Speak is the story of Melinda coming to terms with the sexual assault she went through and finally speaking up. She spends the school year labeled an outcast because she called the cops in an end-of-school-year party the previous summer. But she has a secret. She was raped at the party and that’s why she called the cops. She now clams up and doesn’t talk at all.
All her friends abandon her, her parents are clueless about her, and her teachers think her silence is a means to get attention. The only people who treat Melinda well are Mr. Freeman, the art teacher, and Ivy, an ex-friend of hers.
This book is important because it shows how your voice can give you power. The fact that such a book was released in 1999 awes me. This book was way ahead of its time and Anderson did right by using YA as the medium to tell this story. Why was such a powerful book even challenged in the first place?
Laurie Halse Anderson wrote about the importance of something like the #MeToo movement even before the turn of the millennium. In light of #MeToo, Melinda’s story is all the more relevant.
Please read this book if you haven’t already.
Rating: 5 out of 5