This blog is a continuation of a class assignment for the TWU course 5603, Literature for Children and Young Adults. Subsequent entries are for TWU course 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. The new entries are for TWU course 5663, Poetry for Children and Young Adults.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


By Laurie Halse Anderson

Cover image retrieved from

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2006. SPEAK. Penguin Group. New York. ISBN-13: 9780142407325.

Plot Summary
A devastating event in the summer before her freshman year in high school scars Melinda to the point she barely speaks. Unfortunately, NO ONE seems to notice or care, leading her to retreat even further into herself. An encounter with the perpetrator of her nightmare affords her the second chance to speak, giving her back her life and her future.

Critical Analysis
Emotionally gripping and haunting, Speak vividly portrays the emotional crisis of a teenager who is stunned into silence. Everyone blames Melinda for them getting caught at an underage drinking party, but they don’t realize what led her to make the 911 call that got them all caught. Her terror renders her almost mute, as she withdraws to avoid facing the reality of what she has experienced. This is communicated effectively in the text, as Melinda recounts conversations. As she relays the details she quotes the other speaker, then her response: Me: “  “. The reader aches for Melinda as she barely survives. The thoughts, reactions, and attitudes Melinda shares with the reader are spot-on teenage girl. She is an astute observer, which heightens the pain the reader feels that Melinda cannot accurately assess why she is drowning in the air around her.
            Melinda sees the world crashing all around her: peers, school, home life are all unraveling, while she slowly allows the reality of her nightmare to creep back into her mind. Well before she finally puts it into words the reader figures out what has happened. Melinda subconsciously makes a decision to begin moving forward, connecting it to the emergence of Spring. As she slowly puts the pieces of the past together so that she can move forward, Melinda poignantly reveals the steps of her journey to recovery. The reader is drawn in, experiencing her pain and her triumph as she admits to herself what she has lived through and confronts her attacker.
“Realistic fiction” is the perfect tag for this book. The reader feels that the story is happening to a friend or relative. This novel unfolds as if Melinda is sharing her diary or retelling the story directly to the reader. Speech, style, and tempo are characteristic of modern teenagers. The gratifying conclusion allows the reader to part with Melinda knowing that she is on the road to recovery and becoming a part of the world once again.

Review Excerpts
This extremely well-written book has current slang, an accurate portrayal of high school life, and engaging characters. By using a conversational, first-person narrative, the author takes the reader into Melinda's world. This powerful story has an important lesson: never be afraid to speak up for yourself.
Rebecca Vnuk (VOYA, December 1999 (Vol. 22, No. 5))

This is perhaps one of the best books written this year. This is a "must have" book for every high school library. The subject matter may be too disturbing for younger teens. Highly Recommended.
Monica Irwin (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 12, No. 3))

The plot is gripping and the characters are powerfully drawn, but it is its raw and unvarnished look at the dynamics of the high school experience that makes this a novel that will be hard for readers to forget. Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1999)

In her YA fiction debut, Anderson perfectly captures the harsh conformity of high-school cliques and one teen's struggle to find acceptance from her peers. Melinda's sarcastic wit, honesty, and courage make her a memorable character whose ultimate triumph will inspire and empower readers.
Debbie Carton (Booklist, September 15, 1999 (Vol. 96, No. 2))

Awards and Honors
ABC Children's Booksellers Choices Award, 2000 Winner Young Adult Readers United States
Carolyn W. Field Award, 2000 Winner Author United States
Edgar Allan Poe Award, 2000 Nominee Best Young Adult Novel United States
Garden State Teen Book Award, 2002 Winner Fiction (Gr. 9-12) New Jersey
Golden Kite Award, 2000 Award Book Fiction United States
Kentucky Bluegrass Award, 2001 Winner Gr. 9-12 Kentucky
Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 1999 Finalist Young Adult Fiction United States
Michael L. Printz Award, 2000 Honor Book United States
Sequoyah Book Award, 2002 Winner Young Adult Oklahoma
Society of School Librarians International Book Awards, 2000 Honor Language Arts - Novels, Grades 7 - 12 United States
Volunteer State Book Award, 2003 Winner Grades 7-12 Vermont
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth, 1999 ; American Library Association; United States
Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High, Fourteenth Edition, 2001 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Bulletin Blue Ribbons, 1999 ; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; United States
Capitol Choices, 1999 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children's Literature Choice List, 2000 ; Children's Literature; United States
Dealing with Alienation, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Horn Book Fanfare, 1999 ; Horn Book; United States
Lasting Connections, 1999 ; American Library Association; United States
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education; California
School Library Journal Best Books, 1999 ; Cahners; United States
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2000 ; American Library Association; United States
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2000 ; American Library Association-YALSA; United States
Young Adults' Choices, 2001; International Reading Association; United States

  • ·      The strong emotional tone of this tale confronts the reader with fears and how harsh reality can be. Brainstorm a list of emotions Melinda is faced with in the novel. Assign students to choose one emotion and write a poem that communicates their own experience with that particular emotion.
  • ·      If you are reading this book with a mature class, visit to read a poem written by author Laurie Halse Anderson in response to the communications she has received from readers of Speak. Discuss with the class the reactions expressed in the poem. Do any shock you? What responses do you believe Ms. Anderson may have received that did not make it into this poem? Which responses do you identify with? What makes this poem realistic to you?
  • ·      Discuss this question from the discussion guide at :

Is it possible to speak without spoken words? Why or why not? Identify passages in the novel to support your position.
  • ·      According to the National Center for Victims of Crime:

           Seventy-seven (77)% of completed rapes are committed by non-strangers (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997).
           A woman is four times more likely to be raped by an acquaintance than by a stranger. (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 2002).
          Acquaintance rape is rarely reported to police. Less than 2% of acquaintance rape victims reported the assault whereas 21% of women raped by strangers reported the crime to police (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 2002).
          Every year, an estimated one woman in eight in college is raped and in 85% of those
assaults the women knew their attacker (Texas Woman's University, 2007)
         31% of rape victims develop some form of Rape-related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. (National Center for Victims of Crime & Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, 1992).

Research the facts and trends concerning date rape and counseling available to help victims. Work with a partner or small group to develop a promotional campaign urging victims to seek counseling or other help in dealing with crimes of violence against them. Share with the class, school counselor, local counseling agencies, or other students, as arranged by the teacher.
  • ·      Write a letter to Melinda from the viewpoint of her former friend Rachel/Rachelle or any of the other girls who come forward after Melinda discloses what happened to her. Explain to Melinda how the encounter with Andy (aka IT, the Beast) affected them. Offer her advice of how to get past her experience.

Other books by Laurie Halse Anderson:
Young Adult Fiction:
Historical Fiction:
Fever 1793
Fiction for Young Readers:
The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School
Vet Volunteer Series
Nonfiction for Young Readers
Independent Dames
Thank You Sarah!

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