Book Review: Speak

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.


18 responses to “Book Review: Speak

  • Jan

    I may have to read this book.

  • Teresa

    I am never for banning books to the public. I am about watching what my children read or see until “I” feel they are ready. I work in a public school district and it is a great one, but this does not negate my responsiblity as a parent to “watch” what is being sold to my child and make sure it is age appropriate. I don’t know the man from Republic, and I am not judging him good or bad. He does have the right to campaign for what he believes. And I don’t believe this makes him ignorant. Maybe it’s common for children to be exposed to adult content where you live, but here in Missouri we are little more cautious. We DO discuss things with our children. We do let them read and see what’s in the world.

    That’s my opinion.


    • kimberlyloomis

      I totally agree with you about the discussion process, Teresa. The man who spoke out against this book called it pornography, this is why I think he’s ignorant. Rape (and you need to read the book to understand this) in this book was nowhere near what I would consider to be pornographic nor would any person who has even come close to the Silhouette/Harlequin shelves at their bookstore. Honestly, I thought the scene did little for the book, but it was far less descriptive than I had anticipated it would be based upon some of the hoopla surrounding it. While I agree he has a right to speak out on behalf of his views, I generally find it reprehensible to use the freedom of speech to hinder accessibility of information (i.e. the first amendment rights of others) of people unknown. Thanks for sharing! As always I think these things generally are best left in the hands of parents, not the schools. 🙂

  • laurelrainsnow

    I haven’t read this book, but saw a movie based on it, which depicted much of the book’s content. I generally don’t read YA books, but this sounds like one to which I’d make an exception.

    Thanks for sharing….

  • Joy

    I don’t read YA, but you’ve made such a case for this book that I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  • Carol Kilgore

    Excellent review, Kimberly. I think what people are so up-in-arms about is that the man in Missouri considers rape pornographic. Rape is not sexual. It’s control. A power trip for the perpetrator.

  • Hart

    I think I mentioned that it is required here, too–I think for the reason you mentioned. I read a fair amount of YA–I have a 15 year old and discovered reading with her, that I really love a lot of the themes. I ALSO think the adult market at the moment is a little conservative and ‘me too’ (because of publishing decisions, not authors) and YA is where to find fresh stuff. I haven’t read this one, but it is one I’d gotten for my daughter BEFORE she had to read it because of an interview, and I DO make a regular practice of discussing themes with my daughter that are opened through books.–it is SO MUCH easier to discuss things like ‘that is why you and your friends WATCH OUT for each other at parties–never let them go off alone’ when you have something like this to open the topic.

    Books have helped with discussions of sex (the consensual kind), alcohol, drugs, violence (is there ever a time it’s okay) and i think parents who just don’t want their kids exposed are asking for trouble, because if the first time you are exposed is when you are in the MIDDLE OF IT, chances of responding well are low.

    (Like you, that first person present tense bugs the crap out of me, but a compelling enough story can get me past it–Hunger Games was another YA story like that)

    Great review!

    • kimberlyloomis

      It’s wonderful that you read what your daughter does, Hart. The discussion of the subject material is vital to the communication of ideas and, heck, communication in general! I’m finding it quite remarkable that so many schools want to discuss this one and, hopefully, work toward encouraging victims to become less so. Once victimized through violent action like this is too much. Being victimized again through notions of public shame and assuming fault that isn’t their own is something we can all do something about.

      You’re the second person within a week who has mentioned Hunger Games. I’m thinking I might need to check that out. Currently I’m reading “Brave New World” as part of my banned books challenge so it will be a little while before I get to that one. 🙂

  • Helen Ginger

    I haven’t read the book but it sounds like one that young adults could read and learn from. Girls go through so many emotions in everyday life that they’re not easy to deal with. It can help to see how characters deal with the same emotions or even ones they may never deal with.

  • litlove

    I have a 15-year-old son and I don’t think there’s anything I could discuss with him that he hasn’t already heard about in the playground. I would so much rather talk to him about everything than hide it in silence; it never works. Funnily enough he is still mad at us for not admitting to him that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. So I shudder to think of the reproaches I’d hear if we didn’t talk about the things that are significant.

  • angelafristoe

    I’ve been reading a bunch of blogs about this book lately and I considered posting about it but know I would just get to angry. I haven’t read the book, but know what it’s about and I can’t believe that any one living in today’s world would think that kids aren’t already exposed to these kind of things, either through their own lives or through the lives of their friends. this is definitely on my list to read and I’m hoping to pick it up at the library this weekend.

  • writes2escape

    I’ve read Hunger Games! =D and you have got to write a book review over that! Since you’re excellent in pointing out all the necessary writing bits and pieces. Speak sounds intriguing. Having a great interest in the YA genre, another book coming along my way would be a treat after all the college work. -_-

  • mywordlyobsessions

    Another one to add to the list. I think I’ve heard about Speak on another blog and it was highly recommended. Glad you enjoyed it.

    I’m glad you pointed out the rape scene. It’s nice to see an author concentrating on the aftermath of a trauma and the ways in which that character breaks through it. Good to see it on the curriculum.

  • The Sexy Librarian « The Perpetual Writer

    […] want to say the rape scene in Speak earns that place, but it was handled so well and was so obviously not the most uncomfortable part of […]

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