Friday, February 27, 2009

Authors talk about SPEAK

Steph (Reviewer X) and I have prepared this feature on SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and since it is quite long, we have divided into parts. This is part 3.

Here's the handy table of contents so you can follow along in order:

Part 1 Steph and Lenore speak up about Speak (at Reviewer X)
Part 2: Steph and Lenore speak up about Speak (continued) (at Presenting Lenore)
Part 3: Authors speak up about Speak (at Presenting Lenore)
Part 4: Win one of 20 copies of Speak (both blogs)
Part 5 still to come!

For Part 3, I am pleased to welcome four authors who each have something to say about SPEAK: Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Becca Fitzpatrick, Jayne Pupek and AS King. A round of applause!!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted speaks up about SPEAK:

SPEAK was not the first book by Laurie Halse Anderson that I read - that honor would go to THANK YOU, SARAH: THE WOMAN WHO SAVED THANKSGIVING, which I read to my then six-year-old daughter - but it certainly was an important book and it made a huge impact on me. Like far too many people, I've known far too many girls and women in my life who have been the victims of acts of sexual aggression. SPEAK spoke not just for its own narrator, but for generations of girls and women. Whether with this book or THANK YOU, SARAH or with the forthcoming WINTERGIRLS, Laurie Halse Anderson is the gold standard that the rest of us YA writers can only hope to be measured against.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of several novels for adults and teens including SECRETS OF MY SUBURBAN LIFE and the forthcoming CRAZY BEAUTIFUL (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt September 2009). Visit her website at


Becca Fitzpatrick speaks up about SPEAK:

I was twenty five when I first read SPEAK. Not exactly a young adult, but intimidation and demoralization feel the same at sixteen, twenty six or even one hundred and six! One of SPEAK's strongest moments happens in the classroom when Mr. Neck opens a debate on immigration. The moment the debate falls out of his control, he squashes it. “I decide who talks in here,” he says.

Those words made me feel like someone had stuffed broken glass down my throat. Six little words, and I immediately remembered all the times others have tried to silence me. In my early twenties, I took a train from Vermont to Philadelphia. The train arrived in Philadelphia hours delayed, and by the time I boarded the smaller commuter train taking me out of the city, it was late at night. The train carried only a handful of passengers. I found myself sitting beside a man who verbally attacked me. I was petrified and alone—with the eyes of the entire train car on me. From some silent place deep inside me, I wished he would go away. I wished I would disappear. The man's threats intensified, and the passengers shifted their eyes, pretending not to see what was happening.

Then a woman stood up. She told the man if he didn't stop threatening me, she would see to it that the train was stopped and the police called. Never before in my life, have I been so grateful someone had the courage to say the words I couldn't bring myself to say.

In SPEAK, after Mr. Neck closes the debate, a boy named David Petrakis stands up. Everyone watches him, wondering what he will do. I don't have to imagine how alone, afraid, and yet determined David feels, because I've been there. Mr. Neck orders David to take his seat, but David tells his teacher he's protesting the tone of the lesson. Powerful words to a man twice his age, twice his size—a man who controls the grade that will be immortalized on David's report card. While David could easily rationalize away his convictions, he doesn't. Then he sets the perfect example of what it means to speak up, and ironically, he does it without saying a single word.

"David stares at Mr. Neck, looks at the flag for a minute, then picks up his books and walks out of the room. He says a million things without saying a word. I make a note to study David Petrakis. I have never heard a more eloquent silence."

Becca Fitzpatrick’s first YA novel HUSH HUSH (Simon & Schuster) comes out in January 2010. Visit her blog at


Jayne Pupek speaks up about SPEAK:

Laurie Halse Anderson's debut novel, SPEAK, is one of the most compelling young adult novels that I've read. SPEAK tells the story of a young girl who becomes an outcast after she calls the police to bust a summer party where she was raped, an event she endures in secret. As someone who has spent more than a decade working in mental health, I can attest to the authenticity with which Anderson describes Melinda's fear and shame; she literally loses her own voice as a result of her trauma. This is a wonderful book to share with any teenager, but especially meaningful for survivors of sexual assault and for any teenager who is being ostracized for doing the right thing. A writer myself, I admire how Anderson uses wit to keep a very difficult subject from becoming overly dark and depressing. This is a moving and engaging read.

Jayne Pupek is the author of the novel, TOMATO GIRL (Algonquin Books 2008). Visit her website at:


AS King speaks up about SPEAK:

I was thirty-eight when I first read SPEAK. From the minute I started, the book had me hooked and I read it in one sitting. I suppose part of the reason I was hooked was to see Melinda say or do something about what had happened to her. I remember hearing the statistics back when I was in high school. One out of four women and girls is raped or sexually assaulted. I remember mentally lining up the girls in my gym class. xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX. That’s a lot of girls walking around with a secret burning through their souls—a secret they never asked for or deserved. A secret with its own secrets.

One scene that really sticks out from SPEAK for me is the scene in the art room where IT arrives and starts talking to her. When he says, “Hello? Anyone home? Are you deaf?” it’s just such a moment of raw emotion as a reader. I want to reach into the book and pull him out and somehow show him that he’s done this to a person—to more than one person. I want to show him that he has ruined people.

Melinda asks, “Why am I so afraid?” and I am there with her, equally afraid and quiet.

Two chapters later, Melinda is home sick, watching daytime TV, in the chapter entitled Oprah, Sally Jesse, Jerry and Me. Halfway through that page, there is a single question. “Was I raped?”

Oprah and Sally Jesse answer the question for us. They tell Melinda that this was not her fault. They tell her that she needs to get these feelings and these thoughts of guilt and self-blame out. This had to be one of the best writing vehicles I’ve read in a long time. Because in real life, we don’t usually talk about uncomfortable things unless it’s sensationalized to the point of TV talk shows, and, in most cases, victims like Melinda are silent. xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX. There are so many.

What Laurie Halse Anderson did when she wrote and published SPEAK, is a favor to all of us—victims or not. She allowed us to talk about something that’s systematically ignored. She allowed us to inspect this secret our society keeps hidden, and by doing so, she freed a great many women and girls from a quiet hell, no matter how normal they acted in public. For so many women, SPEAK is a ticket.

AS King is the author of DUST OF 100 DOGS (Flux 2009). Visit her website at: and her blog at:


H said...

That was a really thoughtful set of posts. Interesting to get the views of four different people who all apply different experiences to the same book. You rock, Lenore and Steph, for taking the time to organise this.

Alea said...

Wow this gave me chills. What a great idea to hear from authors about their thoughts of Speak!

Staci said...

Loved the different authors views on this book. Again, another solid post!

Carrie said...

I love these posts. Great job. I can't wait to read Wintergirls. I love Laurie's books. Thanks

Shooting Stars Mag said...

awesome awesome. i love this book. i need to re-read it again at some point. i love this!


bermudaonion said...

This is an awesome post. You really have the connections!

Shalonda said...

I am so glad to hear what the authors think of Speak. I think it is pretty much agreed by those who have read it that it is a powerful novel that gives voice to the women of the world.

susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
susan said...


In the initial discussion some felt I was critical. I said what I felt, and while I might have said it differently, I said it the only way I could. I had no way of knowing about the second installment which did a much better job of articulating why I felt so strongly.

I didn't want every reader to see it the same. My fear and frustration was the absence of the very points the authors addressed.

Someone says we all bring something different to a read. I spoke as a survivor. I am the girl, the friend, mentor who has listened to the Melinda's.

If I came off raw that is because this is how it sounds even many years later.

If it wasn't clear I do appreciate you putting the series together.

Thank you,

nadine said...

I enjoyed reading these posts, they were all well said.

Ladytink_534 said...

I have Lauren Baratz-Logsted's This is Chick-Lit book! Very neat article :)

A.S. King said...

Thank you so much for having me, Lenore & Steph. I was thrilled to hear that the 10th anniversary of this fine book was going to get some recognition and honored to be a small part of it.
I think one of the most important things for me about SPEAK is that Melinda is dealing with the aftermath of her experience in a way that many many people do, which means, in essence, that she is simply doing the best that she can. (Of course, there is never one right way to do a thing--especially something as difficult as recovery from sexual assault.) I believe that is *exactly* why so many readers could relate to Melinda's struggle. And *exactly* why this book became required reading in so many classrooms--because it speaks subtly about those who aren't confronting something difficult without being pushy, preachy, or judgmental--which I believe are the three main obstacles of recovery in the first place.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Thank you so much for including me in the celebration of Speak - Lenore and Steph *rock*!

Christina Farley said...

Great post on this book. I loved 'hearing' what other authors had to say.

Anonymous said...

Wow, SPEAK was the first YA book I read, and it CHANGED me. I'll have to do a blog post on it, too! Thanks so much for this series.

Color Online said...

In light of the public violence between Chris Brown & Rhianna, these links are telling, sad, compelling: