Sunday, December 8, 2013

Speak: Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak: Laurie Halse Anderson

Rating: 8.75/10. 4 stars.

Series: Standalone  
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary  
Release Date: October 22, 1999  
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Page Count: 198
Synopsis: The first ten lies they tell you in high school. "Speak up for yourself--we want to know what you have to say." From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In Laurie Halse Anderson's powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.
First Sentence: It is my first morning of high school.

I was recommended this book by two friends with extremely different reading tastes. Yet they both loved it. One of the friends that recommended it had spoiled the ending. I honestly can’t tell you if the story would have been better or worse if I hadn’t known the ending. It’s not one of those “OMG, what am I supposed to do? The world is over. That ending killed me.” It’s more of those contemporary endings that give you a feeling of closure and relief, that make you feel, “so that’s why that person is like this”, “that’s why that person got this way”. Another thing I wanted to point out, is that my opinion changed during the story, and I really did want to rate this book 5 stars, but I couldn’t.

Plot 7/10: I don’t want to explain to you what this story is about (that’s what the synopsis is for), but I do want to talk about my feelings about it. The plot wasn’t so much what we learn in 3rd grade, where all stories have a problem and solution. Melinda had plenty of problems, and there was only one solution, but it wasn’t that through the story she was fighting to solve it, quite the opposite in fact. She was trying to bury what happened to her, try and forget like it had ever happened. So in that sense, if you’re looking for a classic story, this isn’t for you. The story is more of her journey through the school year, retreating further and further back into her mind.

Characters 8/10: The main character in this story was Melinda Sordino, a 13/14 year old girl in her Freshman year of high school. Unlike some characters in contemporary novels, she wasn’t layered like a tree trunk (an inside joke), she didn’t wallow in the meaning of life, and why we’re here on this planet as human beings. Yet, she was deep, and shadowed. She bottled in what happened to her for an entire school year. That shows who she is. It can either demonstrate strength, stupidity, immaturity, you name the characteristic, but I believe it was strength. My complaint is that up until page 100, halfway through the book I might add, she seemed whiny. This was before we learned about her big secret, although we did know that something horrible had happened to her. She seemed like she whined about everything and everyone, complained, so knowing the ending helped me understand, but if I hadn’t I would have said she was poorly formed.

The rest of the characters seem pretty unmentionable, not because they weren’t memorable, or were bad, or anything like that, but I just don’t feel the need to get into them. All except one other.

Mr. Freeman, the art teacher. While Melinda’s grades were rapidly sliding, art was the only subject she got an ‘A’ in, and that wasn’t because he was easy. He was that one teacher in school you think is weird, but love anyway because of it. In the end of the book, after everyone finds out about Melinda, he is the one who she opens up to, all the details. He was their as almost an anchor, not because of their connection, they weren’t extremely close or anything like that. Just the fact that Melinda knew he was there, and frankly, he was the teacher she hated the least. Mr. Freeman gives the kids assignments to create works of art throughout the year based on a word, and they had to create something that would touch and speak to everything. Melinda’s was a tree, which has symbolism (in my mind) of her growing, the roots that had been planted in her mind, and everything else.

Cover: 7/10 My feelings about the cover of the book are very mixed. The feelings and emotions it gave me were very powerful, and as (I think) Spiderman’s uncle says “with great power comes great responsibility”. The cover had  to live up to the book. The two different eye colors weaved in with branches of the tree were simple, yet artistic, and maybe that was all the book needed. A book like “Speak” either needed a cover with the definition of simple, or lots of chaos. That’s why I have mixed feelings on the cover.

Title 10/10: It took me about 75% of the book before I figured out why it was called “Speak”. The impression my friend (who spoiled the ending) gave me the impression that Melinda didn’t speak at all throughout the entire book, so then I thought there would be some cliche movie moment where she spoke her first word after a long time and everyone beams with million watt smiles. That was not it whatsoever. Melinda did speak throughout the entire book, even though the amount of speaking she did was much less towards the end. Melinda did speak to a lot less people, and became somewhat of a social recluse, refusing to talk to anyone without it being necessary. I’m sincerely trying not to spoil the ending, so all I will say is that the meaning of the title is that something really bad (that’s not the right word) happened to Melinda, and the weight of it was so much that it took her an entire year before people found out what it was. So the title “Speak” was symbolism of her finally speaking out.

Writing Style & Feels 8/10: Normally, the two categories wouldn’t go hand in hand, but “Speak” is an exception. This book is classic Laurie Halse Anderson, once you read a page, you know its hers. She has this voice in her characters that are able to, even when slipping into depression or anger, are still humorous, not in the way of making everything a joke, but seeing the irony and luck of the world despite what they’re going through. Her writing leaves a big impact without you knowing it. I definitely felt things when I read this book, but it wasn’t like “Before I Fall” where they were really extreme. The emotions crept up on me, the characters grew on me, and at the end I couldn’t have imagined not reading the book.

Ending 10/10: The ending was perfect. People found out Melinda’s secret, but it didn’t change who she was. She was still suffering the emotional aspects of it, but the mental ones, the ones where she kept everything in were lifted. The last page is her finishing up a sketch of a little tree, made with brown paper and a piece of chalk. Then she speaks, not the initial changing- everything-in-the-story speak, but speaks to Mr. Freeman about the year and what happened to her.

Quotes 7.5/10: There weren't many quotes in this book that made me swoon and say, "I need to take a picture of that." Although there were quotes that made me feel like they would be witty enough to take a picture of -see 'Writing Style & Feels'- 

"Are words or numbers more important than images? Who decides this? Does algebra move you to tears? Can plural possessives express the feelings in your heart? If you don't learn art now, you will never learn to breathe!!!"---P.11 Mr. Freeman  
I personally love this quote, although I don't like art which is ironic since one of my favorite characters Mr. Freeman is an art teacher. I personally think words can do the same thing as art,but not the same as images. If they're done in a certain way, they can move me to tears and speak. The main reason I took a picture of this is because algebra does not move me to tears, it bores me to death. and plural possessives seems do not express the feelings in my hear, they seem extra and frivolous.

"The tears dissolve the last block of ice in my throat. I feel the frozen stillness melt down through inside of me, dripping shards of ice that vanish into a puddle of sunlight on the stained floor. Words float up."---P.198 Melinda Sordino
I like this quote just because of how it expresses Melinda as she is about to tell Mr. Freeman her story. It's like a bird taking flight, or a baby fawn standing for the first time. It represents her freedom and rebirth.

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