I only learned that Laurie Halse Anderson wrote her modern classic and much challenged novel Speak in response to her own rape as a young teen. But where Melinda came to art to find her voice, Anderson came to writing.
Anderson writes in verse that runs the gambit of emotion and holds no punches. It is a memoir of her full life, opening with a reflection on her father, whose severe PTSD sets the tone for her complicated home (later reflected in her YA fiction The Knife of Impossible Memory). Her rape by a classmate as a middle-school student left her struggling to finish her schooling. Anderson, like Melinda, had a teacher who did make the time more bearable, but she never got the eventual vindication of the character she created. The tree on the cover is more than a simple homage to Melinda’s tree – this novel is Anderson’s voice.
The book is a perfect herald for the fighters of #MeToo – the second half of the book strays from memoir into statement, reflecting on the culture that led to her own abuse and continues to squelch the voices of the abused. She also takes time to shout against the censorship that has followed her since the publication of Speak. Luckily, not all schools ban Speak for “pornographic content.” (Really, they think the rape of a 14 year old girl is pornographic? Fucking telling that accusation is.) She recounts visits to the schools that do share the book, and her exchanges with the girls and boys who confide their own abuses to her, the boys who share doubt in their own behavior or of their friends, and the stunning lack of education not only on the operation of sex but the boundaries surrounding it.
This book would be appreciated most by those who grew up on Speak and her other works, but would also stand alone as an excellent and gut-wrenching account of surviving abuse and finding the strength to be silent no more.