26 September 2011

Book Review: Speak

Title: Speak
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher/Year: Penguin / 1999
Date Finished: 14 September 2011
Source/Format: Trade Site / Print
Book #: 73

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

The Short and Sweet of It
Melinda has a secret. A secret that has alienated her friends and left her incapable of reaching out to anyone. She has become silent, practically mute in the face of her inner turmoil. How can she find the strength to speak the truth of what happened and reclaim her life?

A Bit of a Ramble
I know that "accept" rating is going to really raise some eyebrows. This book is adored by many, many readers. I...liked it. I really did. I read the entire book in one sitting over an almost-two-hour stretch on my couch. I don't think I even got up to use the potty. The plot kept my interest. The voice sounded authentic. The topic is important. But danged if I didn't feel like the story was missing a "wow" factor. The Big Secret isn't exactly a mystery; although I knew what it was going in to the book.

Which brings me to one of my discussion points for this not-really-a-review: Plot Spoilers. I try very hard to know almost nothing about a book before I read it. I rarely read the back covers of books; I'll skim them to see if it's something I like. I do the same with reviews of books I haven't read yet - I skim them looking for sections that are response-based rather than summary-heavy. I think this book was so consistently reviewed by bloggers I read that I had no choice but to know The Big Secret. And a bit about the voice in the story. I do wonder if that colored my reading. Then again, doesn't everyone who reads this know The Big Secret within a couple pages?

A second possibility for my enjoyment-but-not-adoration may be that I found the school unbelievable. I have a really hard time believing high school is that bad and that divided. Maybe I really lucked out with where I went to school, definitely a possibility. I was a head cheerleader, the president of National Honor Society, the president of Spanish Club, and more a member of the "outcasts" than the popular crowd. I never hung with the jocks or the preps, which were really almost the same thing at my school. I can't name or picture a single student who was tortured in my four years of high school. People were made fun of - but even the quarterback of the football team was the butt of jokes. No one had it really really good and no one had it really really bad. But so many YA novels I read seem to indicate that there is this strict separation, distinct stereotypes - all the cheerleaders are dumb sluts, all the male athletes are mean assholes, all the preps are rich do-gooders. This book definitely placed people into clearly delineated and homogenous cliques. That bothered me quite a bit while reading.

But I don't want anyone to get the opinion that I did not like the book. I definitely did. I just didn't love it.

Question: Am I just naive? Was anyone's high school really, really bad?


  1. Actually, I thought Speak really captured high school well. It nails the confusion and sheer tedium of high school. However, I do agree that the cliques were over the top and unrealistic, especially the Marthas. My own high school experience was just fine, once I grew a spine, and you'd think being the queer French theater girl might not go over so well in Georgia.

  2. I haven't read this one, but you are right about the big secret being not so secret after all the coverage that this book has gotten. I would have to say that high-school was a pretty bad time for me, and I have sort of tried to forget a lot of it. I definitely think that it's not as bad for some as it is for others, but I don't have any fond memories of that time at all, and rather wish I did. I think it's all a matter of perspective. I am still very interested in reading this one, and also Winter Girls. I really enjoyed your review!

  3. I don't know, I think for me it wasn't about The Big Secret (because we all know what it is) but it was the fact that she started talking about it, where before she had been completely silent. I was so proud of her. As far as the high school experience, I thought it was pretty realistic. I wasn't on the outside, but I wasn't on the inside either, and had friends that were completely ruined by the senior year. I wouldn't live through that crap again if I were paid.

  4. I definitely want to read this one soon and feel like I can go into it with more realistic expectations now. As for high school, I definitely didn't have it bad either... but is it possible that even though you affiliated with the "outcast" group that because you were so involved (and probably still well liked) that you just weren't aware of those for whom it was really rough?

  5. I was mostly invisible all through high school, so I didn't have too hard a time. However, I did see friends go through some horrifying experiences :\ It's been a while since I read Speak, but I don't remember finding the portrayal of the school unrealistic.

  6. I tend to always be less in love with YA books than most bloggers so don't feel bad. I still haven't read this but, like you, feel like I know a lot about it from seeing it mentioned so much.

  7. I enjoyed this book very much when I read it years ago and am definitely sharing it with my daughter. One thing I remember enjoying very much was the surprising bursts of sardonic humor...

  8. I read this book years ago, way before book blogging. I do remember liking it a lot. I really enjoy Anderson's writing. I don't remember the way the high school cliques were portrayed, but I will agree that there does tend to be a bit of an exaggeration of them in movies and books. However, I went to a high school in a small Texas town. We only had the one school and there were definitely cliques. I did see some people have a really rough time of it. Some kids are just really mean and bullying happened. In spite of all that, my high school was more nuanced than some of the schools and cliques portrayed in books/movies.


  9. This book was a summer required read for HS freshman in a town near me. I hadn't read it but asked my friend's dot what she thought of it. Sadly, all she could give me was a shrug.

  10. I never heard of this book, but want to read it now :)

    As for my high school, I went to an all girls public high school. It was a magnet school so you either had to have a certain average to get in or test in. Our groups were more racially divided or section of the city divided. Since I was from a part of town with a reputation, I was instantly accepted by everyone, so it was easy for me.

    Racial issues would pop up from time to time, but we usually realized we were being idiots, or if it was race and grade, then it was grade that turned into the issue not race, like juniors vs. sophomores, instead of black vs white.

    There was one girl that was bullied out of our school, and I have always regretted it, because I stood by and let it happen. I protested a bit, but not as much as I should of. I was friends with both parties. Actually any issues that arose, usually cam from the bully's direction anyway. She was always a bitch.

  11. This book didn't live up to my expectations either, so I am glad I am not the only one that had issues with it. I thought Wintergirls was much better.

  12. I really enjoyed this one when I read it and hope that someday I will be able to read and discuss it with my daughter. I think that the book stood out for me because Melinda was so friendless and silent...I instantly felt for her. I plan on rereading this one at some point because it has been awhile.

  13. This book spoke to me on a personal level (not because what happened to her happened to me...but the ability not to be able to speak and be understood). There's been a lot on blogs lately about spoilers and even without knowing a stitch about the book, sometimes we have predisposed feelings. And if those feelings aren't met then it ruins the book. Though I don't like spoilers. I don't want to know what a book is about AT ALL.

    I listened to Wintergirls and really liked it. Maybe try that one.

  14. Wow, we definitely had cliques at my high school. I didn't know there were high schools that didn't! I can't imagine one student at my school taking on all the things you did. Go you!

  15. I've seen the movie but not read the book. I like what you had to say about one-dimensional high school characters. I like when characters are more complex--the "mean" cheerleader who takes care of her disabled brother, or the "jock" who is really intelligent at math.

  16. I loved it the first time, but I don't think it stands up to rereads. I also find the realization at the end a little too neat.


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