Published in 1999. 198 pages.
2000 Printz Honor Book.
First sentence: It is my first morning of high school.
Last sentence: "Let me tell you about it."
Basic storyline: A traumatic event near the end of the summer has a devastating effect on Melinda's freshman year in high school.
Why I read this book: I put this book on my to-read list last year when I found out about Laurie Halse Anderson's work at The Hidden Side of a Leaf. (Here is Dewey's 2006 review of Speak.) I even picked the book up at the library, but other things took priority and I didn't get to it before I had to return it. As I was compiling 2008 challenge lists, I put Speak on my lists for the Cardathon, the Printz Award Challenge, Every Month is a Holiday, and the Young Adult Challenge. I was determined to read Speak at some point this year! Luckily for me, the host of my IRL book club choose Speak for our April group meeting - and the rest is history.
Why I loved this book: There are several reasons why I really loved this book. First, Melinda's voice is the perfect mix of sarcastic wit and honest pain. She is just so "real." Second, the subtle symbolism and literary references were so great. My favorite was a poster of Maya Angelou on the door of Melinda's secret hide-away; like Melinda, Angelou suffered a trauma as a child and stopped speaking for a time. Third, Anderson's writing is just so powerful. Here is a passage that my IRL book group host particularly liked:
Our frog lies on her back. Waiting for a prince to come and princessify her with a smooch? I stand over her with my knife. Ms. Keen's voice fades to a mosquito whine. My throat closes off. It is hard to breather. I put out my hand to steady myself against the table. David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet. I have to slice open her belly. She doesn't say a word. She is already dead. A scream starts in my gut - I can feel the cut, smell the dirt, leaves in my hair.
Finally, I loved this book because it deals with a serious, important issue with such humor.
A note about censorship: Because of its controversial subject matter, Speak has been challenged in a number of schools. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) reports that "according to Anderson, in almost all the challenges she has heard about, the book remained in the curriculum." Read more about the challenges Speak faces and about Anderson's efforts to fight censorship at The Banned Books Project. (One of the posts there about Speak is mine.)