I have heard of Speak before — it’s been out since 2001 — but I never really knew what it was about. I happened to buy the 10 year anniversary edition at a used book sale. There’s a note from the author at the beginning, talking about what a huge response she’s received over the years from her readers about this book. She puts together a collection of lines from readers’ letters, and I swear, the damn thing had me in tears. That’s a powerful book, to move me like that before I even meet the characters.
“It’s easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.”
Melinda Sordino attended a party just before school started, and something happened that caused her to call the police. They broke up the party, which caused the majority of her class to hate her for one reason or another, just before freshman year starts. She loses her long-time friends, and even total strangers give her the stinkeye. She sort-of befriends a new girl, but Melinda has vowed to speak as little as possible, so even that friendship barely exists.
As you can probably guess, Melinda was raped at the party. She becomes convinced that no one will believe her, so she keeps her mouth shut. She’s not wrong — when she opens up to a friend about it, the friend lashes out at her instead of believing her. The 18 year old guy who did it (Melinda was 13 at the party) follows her around school and torments her. Her parents barely notice anything’s wrong, and instead get angry with her about her grades, her cutting class.
This book brings some strong emotions, not only because of the subject but because of the power of Anderson’s writing. I felt so deeply for Melinda, and it scares me how many other young girls have gone or will go through the experience. I love that Anderson recognizes the power that her story has had on her audience — it’s a book that as many people as possible should read.