“IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying, or burying, or hiding.”The novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is one that moves people and takes people on an adventure into the mind of a teenager. But not just any teenager, into Melinda Sordino’s mind. A freshman at Merryweather High, age fourteen, with muddy brown hair, brown eyes, chapped lips and hated by her new school.
Starting from her first day in high school, she is already known among her peers as the outcast and unwanted by anyone and everyone who knows her name. For what reason? As far as anyone knows, she called the cops at a party getting many of the attendees arrested. However, she’s chosen not to think, hear nor speak about what happened on that fresh summer night back in August in Syracuse, New York, that led her new school to hate her.
In this novel, we meet a variety of characters each with their personal view on Melinda. Some with good things to say and others with a more negative outlook on her past actions and her poor reputation. To start with, we have the protagonist herself, Melinda Sordino. Melinda is a smart and perceptive individual who’s just trying to get through the day as best she can. With all her old friends ignoring her and parents who are too busy to notice her the problems that have caused her pain, she is left with nothing but her pain and the memories that haunt her from that one summer day. Throughout the year you see Melinda go through her ups and downs. Going from starting to talk a little more when she befriends the new girl, Heather, to seem to fall deeper into her depressive state, skipping classes and her grades dropping drastically when Heather decides to ditch her to become one of the “Marthas”, a popular click at Merryweather. We find out as the book unfolds that Melinda is truly a very complex character that seems to have a very deep understanding of everything and everyone around her. One day when she stays home due to being sick she finds herself watching Oprah and almost using her as a voice to piece together and explain to herself what really happened that night and what went down showing us that what she observes she uses to help her solve problems that she can’t quite interpret or understand clearly.
As the book progresses, we meet many characters who create a new layer of complexity and intrigue in this story while each playing a key role in Melinda’s evolution throughout the novel. Specifically her eccentric and enthusiastic Art teacher, Mr.Freeman. Mr.Freeman is one of the few people in this story who recognizes Melinda’s struggles and pushes her to speak up and express her feelings, whether it is through words or her art. He brings a sense of lightheartedness and positivity to the book with his motivational speeches, dedication to his students and whimsical persona.
In addition to Mr.Freeman, Rachel Bruin is another character who plays an important role in Melinda’s first year at Merryweather. Rachel is known in the story as Melinda’s ex-best friend. After learning about what Melinda had done on that day, she’s hated her ever since. At least until she discovered the truth of what went down on that blurry and chaotic night. A truth that no one except for Melinda had known. The role that Rachel, specifically her hatred of Melinda, is one that serves almost as a reminder to our main protagonist of everything that happened and all that’s changed since that night. We witness, through Melinda’s eyes, Rachel’s attempts to fit in with her new “click”, known as the foreign exchange students. In trying to fit in with them, she changes her name from Rachel to Rachelle, along with her looks, her personality and even the way she acts and speaks. When reading about Rachel’s evolution into this new version of herself, many such as myself would think that Rachel changing herself so drastically was almost an attempt at her trying to distance herself from who she used to be. A version of herself that reminded her of her old friend. However, the more she seemed to try to distance herself from her former being the more we see her struggle to keep up the lie she’s created as the new version of Rachel Bruin.
From the moment you start reading Melinda’s story you witness the growing conflict between her wanting to speak up about what happened on that day and her trying to run away and forget about the events that took place. Throughout the book, Melinda fights with herself wanting so desperately to speak out about what happened but choosing not to out of fear of no one believing her. This conflict is a reflection of the main theme present throughout the novel. It is that speaking your truth will help you heal and grow. This theme is shown throughout the book, starting with Melinda confessing to Rachel what really happened to her and ending with her telling Mr.Freeman her whole story, the last day of ninth grade.
This book is one that truly touched me, I can proudly say that I believe it is a true work of art. The way the words captivated me and the way in which the characters and people were described made me feel as if I was in the book. From the fluidity of the conversations in the book to the dynamic and intriguing characters that were introduced in the book truly made this a book to remember. The plot of the story only added to the uniqueness of the story and you can tell that the author was putting her soul into what she was writing and what she was trying to communicate with her readers. Not to mention the imagery and foreshadowing in the book added to the element of a cold and unwelcoming environment in which Melinda thought and felt it be. As the story progressed there’d be moments in the book where you’d hear the thoughts of Melinda when she’d start reflecting on what had happened during the summer but it was never said outright, at least not until the last page of the book when she finally comes to terms with what happened. The day in which she finally grew out of the shell of a person she had been at the beginning of that school year into a confident, artistic and bright version of herself. A version that is not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what she believes in.