Thursday, 5 July 2012
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino seems like an ordinary teenager until she attends a party one night the summer before starting high school. She becomes known as "the kid that called the cops" and isolated by her peers. As we follow Melinda, she becomes more and more insular and full of complex emotions as the year goes on and she stops communicating with those around her. But what really happened at the party to have such a big impact on her?
I really wanted to love this book. I enjoyed reading it and think it is an important book in some regards, but unfortunately I just don't see it as the modern classic that others do. I'm going to set out my 'problems' with the book below, some are subjective to my reading experience and some are more objective. If you love this book, I'm sorry!
1. I already knew what was wrong with Melinda before reading. This meant that there was no emotional kick in the teeth for me when the reader finally finds out what happened to her. I applaud Laurie Halse Anderson to drawing attention to the issue and hope that teenagers reading the book learn more about how horrific an experience it could be. Having said that, I felt like the perpetrator was a stereotypical example and it would have been more realistic if he was Melinda's boyfriend rather than a random? (Trying to not spoil the book for anyone else).
2. I couldn't relate to Melinda's high school experience. I'm not American and the school environment Melinda describes was worlds away from my own experiences. I know it's subjective but it meant I wasn't transported back to my high school days, like I would have needed to be to really feel for Melinda and connect with her.
3. Some of the writing was too obvious. I liked that Anderson wrote about how the enormity of what had happened to Melinda literally stopped her from talking but at times it felt like this device was over-used. Particularly when Melinda gets sores on her lips and requires medical attention; it just felt like too much.
4. I didn't think the writing was especially great in general. The simplistic style was a good choice but it felt clunky and awkward. I much preferred the writing in her later book, Chains.
5. Melinda's parents - I understand they were busy and frustrated with her and each other, but I found it hard to believe they would do nothing for so long. As an adult this especially bothered me as absent parenting is something I've noticed a lot in YA. There are plenty of absent parents out there but sometimes it feels that writing them this way is just a convenience for the author.
I don't want to be too negative about the book as I enjoyed reading it and, as I said, it spotlights an important issue to a vulnerable group. It simply wasn't all that I had been hoping for.
First Published: 2001
Score: 3 out of 5
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I haven't read Speak either but it's sitting on my TBR shelf where my oldest daughter put it. I've been more disappointed with YA selections lately even though I know Speak is not a new title. And, I honestly can't put words with exactly why I feel this way. I'm sure I'll get to this one with the firstborn breathing down my neck ;) but I'm not in a hurry.ReplyDelete
I think I would have appreciated this one more as a teenager because like you, I'm not the biggest YA fan now. Best not to rush to read this book if you're not really feeling it.Delete
I read this one for a class on adolescent lit, and I found it quite forgettable. We had some things to chew over, as I recall, in our class discussion but nothing mindblowing.ReplyDelete
Andi, I think it will be forgettable for me too.Delete
I think you make some good points. I feel like this book maybe had more emotional punch a decade ago because we were less open about things like this? I'm driven crazy by the absent parents motif as well. Apparently nothing bad can happen to you if you have two involved parents but if your parents are distant or absent, bad things are sure to come your way.ReplyDelete
You're probably right about the book being more powerful a decade ago. I think it would have had more of an emotional punch for me if I had read it as a teen, rather than as an adult.Delete
I've heard a lot about this book, some of my friends consider it really epic, but I think I understand why it didn't work that well for you.
I don't understand the absent parent trope either. It's like, the writer needs the teen character to get into trouble and so just conveniently removes the parents. That doesn't represent reality, no matter how much the family structure breaks down socially.
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The absent parent theme does seem a bit too convenient, in some books it can come across as lazy writing. If the author wants to get the teen in trouble, they should find a more realistic way to do so.Delete
Wow, I have never even HEARD of this one, so I feel like I must have been living under a rock if it's considered such a modern classic! I, too, am bothered by the absent parent trope. And the stereotypical male trope. And so many, many other overdone themes as well- I could go on and on ;-) I think I'll give this one a miss.ReplyDelete
3 out of 5 is still a positive review, no? Or are you just being polite to the author? I really liked SPEAK despite knowing "the kicker", because I didn't expect it to be structured like this. That it dealt with the aftermath rather than with the fact itself. Many YA books dwell into melodrama and author catharsis, so Laurie Halse Anderson being smart about it was a great surprise.ReplyDelete
That said, SPEAK is indeed an important book because it created a movement that is still today very popular. But "important" doesn't necessarily means "good" or "entertaining". James Joyce's "Ulysses" blew open many closed doors for contemporary lit and I can't say it was entertaining. I labored over this bad boy for over a month. Kudos to you for reading SPEAK. It will make your understanding of the whole YA game a lot better.