Speak is a really difficult-to-read novel about a fourteen-year-old girl who’s been raped. But for most of the book, you don’t know for sure – you just suspect. You do know that all her friends from last year won’t have anything to do with each other because she called the cops at a party over the summer when something happened to her.
Unable to talk about what happened, she becomes nearly mute altogether. The story is her working through her depression and all the other things that came with her experience. It’s really fascinating and heartbreaking all at the same time. I especially find it interesting as a writing device that the main event that sparks the story happens before the book actually begins.
So. Melinda’s starting high school with no friends. There’s one new girl, Heather, who seems to want to be her friend, but it turns out she just wants Melinda to help her with projects that will get her into her dream crowd. Then, there’s Mr. Freeman, Melinda’s eccentric-spiritual art teacher, who gives what ends up being a surprisingly meaningful assignment. (Sidenote: Reading this book made me want to spend more time creating art.)
In mentioning other characters, I should also say that I love that Melinda’s mom is described as being a person who “likes to do things other people are afraid of.” This is me! Also, Melinda’s lab partner, David Petrakis, is great – both as a funny, nerdy character and as someone who encourages her to speak up for herself.
Some great quotes:
- “Nothing good ever happens at lunch. The cafeteria is a giant sound stage where they film daily segments of teenage humiliation rituals.”
- Mr. Freeman: “Art is about making mistakes and learning from them.”
- “So why does everyone make such a big deal of me not talking? …Maybe I don’t like the sound of my voice. Maybe I don’t have anything to say.” I think it’s sad when people believe this of themselves.
- “Sometimes I think high school is one long hazing activity. If you’re tough enough to survive this, they’ll let you become an adult. I hope it’s worth it.” As a person who’s recently entered the ‘adult world,’ some days I tend to say it’s not! But there are lots of other days, too.
I love the extended metaphor throughout the book that connects Melinda with the trees she’s trying to draw and sculpt in her art class. She keeps trying to create this perfect tree, and she’s just never satisfied with it. In her attempts at drawing a tree, she says several times that she just “can’t make it come alive”—which is, of course, much like herself in this time of her life. In her attempts at sculpting/chiseling, Mr. Freeman finally says to her, “Scar it. Give it a twisted branch. Perfect trees don’t exist. Nothing is perfect. Flaws are interesting.” Such good advice about people, too—especially in learning to accept ourselves.
I loved watching Melinda’s journey of learning to speak again—learning to accept life, and herself, imperfections and all. Learning to stand up for herself. Learning to live again.
My favorite quote comes at the end, after Melinda has ‘spoken’: “Bruises are vivid, but they will fade.”