When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a student teacher for English II. He read out loud at the beginning of class, which was fun and exciting—the first book he chose was Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since. Last year, Anderson teamed up with Emily Carroll to transform her groundbreaking novel into a graphic novel. I was not sure how it would turn out, but one of my former professors is a frequent contributor to a comics podcast called The Comics Alternative, and she gave it a rave review. That was enough for me. I devoured this over a cold evening with a hot drink at my side.
The basis of the graphic adaptation is the same as its original: Melinda Sordino seems sullen, silent, and anti-social at the beginning of her freshman year of high school. All her friends from middle school, as well as the entire high school itself, hates her. She witnesses her parents’ unhappiness and remains silent. Everything in school is miserable, except for art class. There, she is challenged to work with a tree all semester long. There is also the threat of IT, which looms over her like a malevolent shadow. The story itself is trimmed down, updated, and condensed, in order to accommodate the graphic novel form.
Caroll’s art is gorgeous and brings the story to life with a simple gray color palette and drawings that convey real emotions and inner life. The updates show a more racial and sexually diverse school, as well as awareness of changing technology in the last 18 years. I very much recommend this graphic novel, especially if you read the original. All the best and most poignant parts of the novel are present in this adaptation, and it is worth spending time with.
Cross-posted to my blog.