I’ve actually had this on my TBR for years, but since I was set to read Anderson’s memoir SHOUT for the Read Harder Challenge this year, I figured it would be a good idea to finally pick it up, since the subject matter is closely related.
Spoilers for the premise below, if you somehow don’t know it.
This was a very fast read. I read it in a couple of hours, and it was hard to put down. Most writing advice goes against making passive characters the center of your narrative, and since our main character Melinda is so depressed and things mostly happen to her not because of her, this could have easily been a book that lost the reader quite early on. But Anderson makes it work, and work well*. This isn’t so much a plot book as it is a character study. It takes place over the course of the school year as Melinda enters high school, having recently become a social outcast because she called the cops at a party outside town and a bunch of kids got arrested or in trouble. The majority of the narrative is made up of Melinda’s incisive observations, her depression, and her trying to wrestle with her demons without acknowledging they exist.
*This is why there is no such thing as a hard and fast writing rule. There are always exceptions, and if you are talented, and know how to work around the obstacles that whatever you’re trying to do creates, you can do things all the writing books and teachers say you shouldn’t, and make it work.
I’m not sure what the experience of reading this book would have been like not knowing what had happened to Melinda, but I knew that she had been raped before I even picked up the book. She doesn’t actually tell us what happened to her until about 40% of the way in, until then you just see the results. The actual writing was very good. It sounded like a teenager, and a depressed and traumatized one at that. Anderson also uses literary techniques in very effective ways. The use of the tree imagery throughout was particularly evocative for me.
I’m not sure if I will be picking up other books by her after these two, but Speak is a modern classic, and definitely worth checking out even if you don’t normally read the genre. It should be a must read for kids and teenagers.