Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson

"When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You'd be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside--walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It's the saddest thing I know."

I'm about to express myself. Madonna, eat your heart out!

I watched the movie version of this story before I even realized it was a book adaptation, but then I started hearing all kinds of good things about the book from other bloggers. I have been known to be a tad, shall we say, disparaging towards YA fiction. But as impressed as I was with the movie, I figured surely the source material couldn't be all bad. And when I saw this in the book section at Target (I was hardly even looking at the books, I swear!) it just sort of leaped off the shelf and into my hands, whispering, "Take me home with you." So I did. (Don't worry, I paid for it first.)

On the surface, Speak is kind of like a cross between the movie Heathers (only with less of its midnight black and razor sharp humor, and with fewer Heathers) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, with the Angst-Causing Teen Issues whittled down from every single possible traumatic life experience to one or two. In case it's unclear to you, that's not a bad combination. Where Heathers may be a bit silly and unlikely (though still awesome!), Speak is steeped in reality. Melinda Sordino could be any girl in any high school in any state in America. That is, any girl with a Big Secret she finds so shameful that she doesn't feel like she can talk about it to anyone.

At just under 200 pages, of course I zipped through Speak, though the excellent writing and absorbing plot didn't hurt a bit in that respect. The book didn't quite reach critical mass for me, but I bet if I hadn't already learned Melinda's Big Secret while watching the movie, I would have found myself the prisoner of an inexorable Chain Reaction of Curiosity, rendering me incapable of putting the book down. You know how I feel about secrets! They drive me bonkers, and I can not rest until I have ferreted out every detail.

I won't tell you what Melinda's Big Secret was, on the off chance that this will leave you able to enter into your own Chain Reaction of Curiosity as you read, but I will mention that (as a result of the secret) Melinda sinks into a depression that consumes her for most of her freshman year of high school. That's not to say that the book itself is depressing. It can be heartwrenching, but it's not a complete downer. Sometimes it's even funny (though, as I mentioned, not Heathers-funny) in a wry and subdued way. And Anderson nails the teenage voice.

Although I am labeling Speak as "not suitable for children . . . or my mom," I do think my mother could probably handle this one. As could the average high school student. I mainly have my 8-year-old daughter in mind when applying this label. She's not ready for it yet.


Kristi said...

I saw the movie of this but didn't realize it was a book. It's the one with Kristen Stewart right? I'm not a big fan of her, but I thought she was pretty good in this one.

After reading your review, I'll have to pick up the book. It's been a few years since I've seen the movie so maybe that's enough time to revisit it, even though I do know the Big Secret.

Trisha said...

Holy coincidences Batman! I just finished this book exactly 37 minutes ago. Now that's just strange. I'm opposite of the commenter right above me. I didn't know this was made into a movie... Off to find it now.

Kathy said...

Yep, KS was the lead in the movie, and I agree with you--I think she did a great job. In fact, I was impressed with the entire movie.

Trisha--funny coincidence! I enjoyed your review. Strange that I didn't notice the same thing about stereotypes. Maybe it's because it's been tooooo long since I was in high school . . .

CharityReads said...

I enjoyed this book very much, thanks for letting me borrow it!

Amanda said...

I believe the secret was supposed to unravel slowly, but if you put 2 and 2 together it becomes evident pretty early on what happened. I still enjoyed having it unfold for me though.
I don't know about other schools but I thought the groups were over the top. There wasn't such grand distinctions in groups at high school. But Melinda was a very believable everyday girl and you route for her.

Loraine said...

You have a nice review! Here's mine: Have a nice day!

Kathy said...

Charity--no problemo, of course! Any time.

Mandy--I wish that I remembered the book well enough to know whether I agreed or disagreed with you, but after all this time, there's no hope of that. But knowing you and knowing me, I wouldn't be surprised if my opinions lined up with yours!

Loraine--Thanks! I enjoyed your review too.

Mary A. said...

Is this blog still active?
I found this blog accidentally while googling McCourt, Mary.
I was googling myself.
I wish I were the niece of Frank McCourt, but I am not.
Just read the comments on Angela's Ashes.

Kathy said...

I'm happy to say yes, this blog is still active! Though obviously I'm not especially active when it comes to replying to comments . . .