Review: Speak

Title: Speak
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (1999)
Genre: young adult, mainstream fiction, problem novel

In Their Words:
Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t know hate her from a distance. It’s no use explaining to her parents; they’ve never known what her life is really like. The safest place for Melinda to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she admitted it and let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have no choice. Melinda would have to speak the truth.

In Mine:
Speak is one of those modern-classics that really has to be read. It was so influentual to the YA industry that there is even an imprint named after it (which has published such other hits as Looking for Alaska, Fat Kid Rules the World, and Empress of the World).

So what is it about Speak that’s so powerful? Melinda’s voice is very strong–and I mean her narrative voice, since in reality she tries to talk as little as possible. Her perspective feels very honest. The things she’s dealing with are things teenagers have to deal with, if not personally than through a friend or family member. But it’s not melodramatic or overly depressing. Melinda is trying to move on, the best she can, and it’s easy to get drawn into her struggle.

I’ve seen shadows of Speak in a lot of young adult books written since. It’s one of those books that proves that teenagers can deal with real issues, and it gets a lot of flack for that. But it’s also funny. And even if you haven’t had to deal with the type of heavy issues Melinda has, it’s still easy to identify with her insecurities, her awkwardness at school, her desire to be understood.

I do have to add that this book always puts me into a funk. I’ve read it twice now, and both times I find myself mildly depressed until I’ve made it through the book. This happens to me with a lot of books that are written in first-person, though; they get in my head and I sort of keep thinking in their voice for awhile after putting the book down. But I don’t see that as a negative; if anything, it shows what an exceptional writer Anderson is.

I have a confession to make: I don’t actually have the version of the cover I used above. I actually have the platinum edition, but I prefer the original cover. My version is a very pretty book, though. The cover is nice and thick, with French folds (which is when a sturdy paper-back cover folds inside, like the flaps on a hardcover). It’s trimmed unevenly, to have that fancy, old-fashioned feel to it.

I love the interior of this book because it’s very stark. Instead of paragraph indentations, there’s extra space between every paragraph, and it makes Melinda’s narrative feel very cut-up or staggered, which thematically fits. The “chapters” also directly flow into each other, broken only by headers. It feels very much like a journal or even a personal blog.

Final Rating:
5/5, truly a modern-classic, definitely a must-read.

About Lucy

If you want to get fancy, Lucy lives in Portland, OR, and has a MA in Writing/Book Publishing, with a focus on Young Adult Literature, and a heaping disregard for literary snobbishness (she was an English Major–she’s seen and spouted her fair share). She works as a social media marketer, and has dabbled in developmental editing as a freelancer.
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