Speak

Speak Cover

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You’d be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside—walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It’s the saddest thing I know.” – Mr. Freeman

Fear, it is something that can control our lives. It can infect our daily routine and cause us to feel a constant unease that can ruin the most basic of activities. Now ramp that fear up to a traumatic experience and it begins to envelop every aspect of us. Something as basic as looking in the mirror or eating breakfast can be ruined by memories of that experience, and the fear often flows back into our minds again and again. It is this type of fear that Melinda faces in Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel, Speak. The book is a first-person journal of Melinda’s life as she enters high school, as a freshman with no friends. They have all rejected her because she accidentally called the cops to a party in the summer. But they don’t understand that the reason she was calling the police was because she had been raped by a senior in her future school, so she called the police and didn’t know what to say. She remained silent on the line. It is this silence that encapsulates Melinda’s journey throughout the novel, and why it is called Speak.

The big theme that is spread throughout the novel is Melinda’s search for a voice. She struggles to cope with trying to tell someone what happened, which leads her to a state of depression. Her parents don’t help any, as they are both preoccupied with their own lives. Her only friend, Heather, ends up ditching her for a group of more popular girls, and her silence ends up making her a target for some of her teachers in school. The only person that seems to be okay with her silence is her Art teacher, Mr. Freeman, who just tries to nurture Melinda with art, to try and convince her to create something and express herself through her art. It is this nurturing voice and soft guidance that helps Melinda to discover her method of expressing her anxiety, her pain, and, ultimately, her fear. Her ability to find her voice also comes from her will to protect her former best friend Rachel, who began dating Melinda’s rapist not long after the traumatic incident. Melinda wishes to keep her safe, and it is this fear for Rachel that allows Melinda to speak up about being raped and be free of the burden she has carried around for so long.

While I know of a few teachers that have used Speak in their classroom, I was not enthralled with the book. One of my issues with it came from the fact that I did not really connect with Melinda as a character. I feel as though this may be because I have never really felt fear and I have never had a traumatic experience that I have had to work through. I am also a fairly loud individual and rarely feel at a loss for words or feel the need to be reserved in the way I speak. So I was not a fan of the novel; however, unlike my last review, I did feel as though Anderson’s characters were fully fleshed out and were well crafted. I was just unable to connect and struggled to dig into the story. I definitely think it is a viable novel for lit circles, but it has some strong content that I would suggest needs to be used with grade 9 students or higher. For Lit Circles, I would use it with Anderson’s own Twisted, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone or Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. Each of these books also deals with a traumatic experience that leads the protagonist to look for their voice to express what they had seen or experienced. Speak is a frustratingly good novel that I just didn’t connect with, but will connect with many who have struggled to find their own voice.

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Twisted

Twisted

“Everybody told me to be a man. Nobody told me how.” – Tyler Miller

It is not very often that I find myself unable to fall asleep due to a book, but thanks to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted, I lost 2 hours of sleep a few weekends ago. Having started the book the night before, I found myself unable to put the book down when I went to sleep, and ended up finishing it all in a 24 hour span. I am not sure if it was the fact that I connected so strongly with the main character, or if it was the narrative that drew me in, but I could not sleep, and I had to continue reading until the last page.

Obviously, I feel Twisted is an engaging read, and I think a large part of that is my love of cheering for the underdog. Tyler Miller is the quintessential nerd underdog; former skinny kid and social outcast turned tall, brawny, and dangerous hunk thanks to puberty, a criminal record due to an ill-conceived prank, and the subsequent court-appointed backbreaking, muscle enhancing , volunteer work. Returning to school for his senior year after nearly being expelled for his school prank, Tyler has created a name for himself, and begins to attract the attention of his dream girl, Bethany Milbury. However, throughout the story, Tyler does not rise to the top of the high school social hierarchy, but is constantly beaten down by the world around him, and his own lack of confidence.

Maybe I was drawn to the book like a gawker is drawn to a car crash. It is so horribly uncomfortable, yet I could not look away. I pulled for Tyler throughout the story, hoping that he could overcome his obstacles, but much like Anderson’s other novels, the main character somewhat accepts his “worthlessness” without much of a fight. The fact that Anderson creates such believable characters is what makes her novels so engaging, and I found Twisted to be the best of hers that I have read.

The book deals with the classic bildungsroman teen issues such as fitting in and discovering identity, as well as powerful issues of emotional and physical abuse and suicide. The story flows well and is very easy to read and the characters are so well defined, that the growth that Tyler exhibits is contrasted by the inability of many others to change in their own circumstances.

I would recommend this book for grades 10 and up, but that is due to some of the emotionally charged scenes and sensitive subjects, not the challenge of the prose. This book would be great for upper level students who are struggling readers, as it is not a challenging read, but is an extremely engaging and relatable story. In Lit Circles, I would pair it with Anderson’s Speak, which can be seen as a similar story, but from a female perspective, as well as Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, which deals with suicide and fitting in, and John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines or even Lish McBride’s Hold Me Closer Necromancer from my last post, which both deal with discovering identity.

Twisted is a great book for lovers of the underdog, those who struggle to focus while reading, or fans of engaging fiction in general.