Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Speak

Posted by nliakos on May 3, 2015

by Laurie Halse Anderson (Penguin 1999; Premium Edition published 2006; ISBN 0-14-240732-1)

This young adult novel was made into a movie, which I saw recently with my daughter (who had read the book in a high school class). It is narrated by the protagonist, Melinda Sordino, a high school freshman in Syracuse, New York. The book is divided into four sections–one for each marking period; each ends with Melinda’s grades from that period, and the grades sink lower and lower as the year proceeds. The reason for this is that Melinda was raped by an older student at a party over the summer; she called 911 but was unable to speak when the dispatcher asked her what was wrong. Police were sent to the party, but Melinda ran away, unable to face them. As a result, everyone believed that she had called the police on purpose to get the party-goers in trouble, and she begins the academic year a despised outcast, still unable to tell anyone about what happened to her.

Obviously, the trauma of the rape is compounded by the social desert in which Melinda finds herself. She begins to sink into depression, and the only person who appears to care is her art teacher, who constantly goads and encourages her to express what she is feeling in her art. However, she remains mired in depression until at last she is confronted with the very real possibility that her former best friend will be harmed by the boy who raped her, and she must speak out to warn her friend, which triggers another attack.

The movie is quite faithful to the book, except that Melinda’s parents are less sympathetic characters in it. The “Platinum Edition” includes an interview with the author, who mentions that many young men wrote to her asking what the big deal was about. She says, “I realized that many young men are not being taught the impact that sexual assault has on a woman. They are inundated with sexual imagery in the media, and often come to the (incorrect) conclusion that having sex is not a big deal. This, no doubt, is why the number of sexual assaults is so high.” It’s something to ponder, anyway.

Upper intermediate and advanced ELLs could probably understand this book, though they should understand that the language register is informal/conversational. The book enables readers to enter the sometimes-cruel world of a large American high school as seen through the eyes of an unpopular, traumatized, and depressed teenage girl. The movie, which flashes back to the rape sooner than the book does (not until page 133, at the end of the third marking period), makes the reason for Melinda’s behavior clearer earlier in the story.

 

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One Response to “Speak”

  1. Thanks for such an informative post

    https://hellaturnup.wordpress.com/

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