"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.