Lately, I've seen the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (208 pgs, Puffin 2001) pop up all over the blogosphere. And with good reason. This is a book I chose to read for the Young Adult Reading 2008 Challenge.
"Older students are allowed to roam until the bell, but ninth graders are herded into the auditorium. We fall into class: Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants, Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eurotrash, Future Fascists of America, Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths, Shredders. I am clanless. I wasted the last weeks of August watching bad cartoons. I didn't go to the mall, the lake. or the pool, or answer the phone. I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don't have anyone to sit with.
I am Outcast.
For Melinda Sordino, high school is not going to be easy. Something happened over the summer that left her an outcast with not only her old friends, but most of the students at Merryweather High. Now this once happy, energetic, A-Student doesn't speak, is barely passing her classes, and has no friends at all. The only thing about high school that is tolerable is art class. Mr. Freeman, the art teacher, is the one person that seems to have any luck getting Melinda to open up. He's given her an assignment, and the entire year to finish. All she has to do is look inside herself, but that is almost as painful as being alone.
There's not an easy way to review this book without giving too much of the plot away. Speak, written mostly as Melinda's inner dialogue, is sharp, funny and yet, extremely painful. High school can be such a difficult time for some kids, and reading this book left me with a bad feeling right in the pit of my stomach. Anderson's writing is just so smooth, you can FEEL Melinda's suffering.
Honestly, this is a book that should be mandatory reading for High School students, to show them the affects of peer pressure and shunning. But that will never happen because someone would deem it too "inappropriate". Kids, on both sides of the coin, should feel what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes. If they did, they might not be so quick to judge anyone else. 4.5/5