Speaking Loudly by Staying Mute

I picked up Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak at the Friends of the Library book sale over the holiday season (along with about 20 other waiting-to-be-explored worlds).  I've been contemplating reading this book for a long time after discussing it with my dear friend, Ashley, who had this as part of her required curriculum while teaching at a high school in the area.  I thought it sounded intriguing and horrific.  Honestly, I was shocked that the school board had approved this book for the curriculum, while some ban such books as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Night (though, thankfully, not in Oregon).

Speak is a book filled with so much silence that has never been so deafening and loud.  Melinda, an incoming freshman, starts the year with zero friends and a terrible, debilitating secret...she was raped by an upperclassman over the summer.  Everyone at school knows her as a narc for calling the police during a party and proceed to make her life miserable, including her former best friends, while she tries desperately to deal with something so horrific that she becomes increasingly introverted and removed from her social surroundings.  Melinda's only saving grace comes in the form of her art class and an amazing instructor, Mr. Freeman (a fitting and ironic moniker).  It is through her various attempts at representing a tree that Melinda is eventually able to silently vocalize her trauma.  In addition to being completely alone in the terror that is high school, Melinda's own parents are not even active members of her very fragile life.  At the end of the book there is finally a brilliant showing of fight and survival that has been slumbering within Melinda for the entire book.  It's satisfying and justifying.

I found this book provoking and incredibly important.  This should be required reading in high schools, and middle schools for that matter, across the US.  The veil that is pulled over rape victims and the hushing that is done is appalling.  Perhaps through thoughtful discussions of this book and by requiring students to feel what Melinda felt, we can take a step in the right direction of rape prevention and reporting.  It's an important and valuable read.

They did adapt this into a screenplay and make a movie.  I don't remember EVER hearing about it.  Interesting.  It is now in my Netflix queue and I WILL be watching it.


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