A lot of bloggers have been talking about this book lately. I can only imagine that part of that is due to Banned Books Week and the attempt by a very ignorant man in Republic, Missouri to get this away from the children. There was another post I wrote that only somewhat referenced this one, really it was another treatise for the first amendment, in which I stated I wouldn’t discuss the book or what the man said about it until I had read it myself. Before I get to the review let me just say this: That man is small, disturbing, and fills me with revulsion. I am a supporter of the first amendment. I defend his right to be a pompous and pious ass about a subject matter he either doesn’t take seriously or simply can’t understand. He has a right to make his ignorance and sickness known to the world and to even ask/demand censorship on behalf of his fearfully righteous notions. It is up to all of us to remember we all have this right and if we want books like Speak to continue being read, discussed and taught then we need to be against censorship. Period.
On with the review!
Books in the YA genre make me twitchy. It’s a huge market and one which I don’t delve into reading overmuch. This book is clearly YA and you know what? Kids need to read it. Adults need to discuss this with them. This is not a work of literary genius, but it is powerful, good and necessary. For those that don’t know what this book is about it’s a high school freshman girl’s story. It’s her life during a year; one in which it becomes more and more painful to find her voice at all, never mind in discussing the rape that happened to her prior to the book’s beginning.
Laurie Halse Anderson starts off the book in language that makes me twitch (not in that uncomfortable kind of way, but in that overdone first person present way that irritates me like sand in a bathing suit):
It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.
But then she does things like this:
I know my head isn’t screwed on straight. I want to leave, transfer, warp myself to another galaxy. I want to confess everything, hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to someone else. There is a beast i my gut, I can hear it scraping away at the inside of my ribs. Even if I dump the memory it wil stay with me, staining me. My closet is a good thing, a quiet place that helps me hold these thoughts inside my head where no one can hear them.
Every psychological complication that goes hand in hand with normal adolescence is addressed, the insecurities and want of solitude, and magnified as appropriate in the situation. The crushing reality of being around so many people and not feeling like you can say something, anything really, when all that needs to be said is screaming inside at a volume which can’t be ignored no matter how hard you try; the isolation you want yet having it forced upon you leaving you wanting for love and acceptance of the things you can not name…. A scream voiced in silence is, perhaps, the most painful of all and, thanks to Halse Anderson’s writing, when the scream is heard it is a triumph in all its painful and enraged glory.
This book isn’t a should read. It is a must read. For parents, for children it’s a way to start discussing this difficult subject and to remind us all that humanity isn’t something obtained with no pain, but what comes from reaching through it and to the person stuck within it. Let the stigma of a most intimate form of victimization die a quick and painful death and let the victims speak in knowledge that the shame of the crime is not theirs to bear.