Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.
Woof. As I said on Monday, all these years later, and it still stands up. Melinda's voice—I love that it's such a huge strength of the book, given how little she actually says out loud—is still so raw, so angry, so exhausted, so real. Her wordplay is organic and often almost onomatopoetic ('rumorwhisper' is one of my favorites), the interactions she chooses to share—as well as her occasional use of the script format—highlight her silence SO WELL, but in such a way that it's understandable how it goes on without intervention for as long as it does. Her descriptions of her own behavior make it clear that she's trying, one day, one hour, one minute at a time, to deal with and survive major trauma and serious depression without any sort of support, and she is terrified and frustrated and betrayed and brave all at once. Her distrust of adults, that she sees them as oblivious at best, wars with her desire for safety and to be heard; getting ostracized by not only her peers, but by her best friends has understandably affected her views about friendship and trust.
In her observations about her peers and her family, she's not always fair, not always politically correct, not always Feeling The Empathy, she's often quite judgmental—and all of that adds up to an original, three-dimensional, believably flawed girl.
What really GOT me this time was that I didn't read it, so much, as a book about sexual assault. I mean, YES. Of course that's a huge part of it. But I read it more, this time, as a book about depression. It was about wanting to crawl into a hole and pull the entrance of the hole in after you; at the same time, it was about desperately not wanting to feel that way, but not knowing HOW not to feel that way. It was about feeling so bad for so long that feeling bad starts to feel like the norm. It was about being in hell while dealing with everyday, run-of-the-mill garbage—as well as other garbage that isn't at all everyday or run-of-the-mill—and about how someone can look and act (somewhat) "normally", but be screaming on the inside.
I loved watching Melinda's progress in art and through the seasons and with her Secret Room and in the garden—ESPECIALLY given the argument that Melinda's English teacher has with one of her classmates about symbolism in The Scarlet Letter—and I loved that it wasn't at all necessary to consciously pick up on that stuff in order to appreciate the book, or to have it resonate.
I love that, despite all the pain, it is also, at moments, an incredibly funny book. And I love that it's funny without minimizing Melinda's pain, without being disrespectful to her or to it or to any other survivor. Also: This is her experience. She doesn't speak FOR anyone but herself, but she will very definitely speak TO anyone who is willing to listen.
So. If it's been a while, I suggest that you revisit. There's a reason it's become a modern classic.