Monday, March 30, 2020

"Speak" - Laurie Halse Anderson

After having read Laurie Halse Anderson's latest book "Shout," I decided to go back to her beginning as an author and read this book that started it all for her.

I knew simply by reading the subject matter that "Speak" would be a challenging read for me and, indeed, it was a challenging read for me. As a disabled male survivor of sexual assault, I resonated with a lot of what Anderson wrote here. While the book, and much of Anderson's writing, is targeted at young females, the themes she tackles are universal and there's no question that these themes can and should register with males.

As someone who experienced sexual assault in middle school, watching the ways in which Melinda's life is impacted by her experience was difficult, familiar, incredibly honest, and heartbreaking. It's even more heartbreaking to me to think that this book has been banned in schools that are apparently simply unable or unwilling to deal with the harsh truths faced by teens, especially girls, today. There's so many little details that Anderson nails beautifully here, from strained familial relationships to grade slippage that goes dismissed or is blamed on other factors to teachers who are both insightful and oblivious.

Without spoiling the book, which I would never do, little lines in the book resonated greatly and I really resonated, in fact absolutely loved, how Anderson ends the book. I also really love how Anderson avoids exploiting her characters - while the book eventually deals with Melinda's experience, it does so in a way that is respectful to the character.

The structure of "Speak" is unique, almost episodic really, yet it works perfectly within the context of the subject matter and within the way that Melinda's mind worked.

Overall, I'm truly amazed this book has never been on my radar. As someone who has written about my own experiences with sexual assault, I found myself kind of in awe of Anderson's ability to create a novel around this experience and yet to give this central character a full, engaging personality even at her most challenged.

This wasn't an easy read, but it was a valuable read. Anderson has become an author whose works I'm quickly absorbing because I find them so engaging. While not everything she writes centers around this topic, this book really cements that she's become one of my favorites and most admired writers and literary voices.

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