Thursday, February 26, 2009

Let's talk about SPEAK II

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. So Steph (Reviewer X) and I thought we'd celebrate with this feature. Since it is quite long, we have divided into 5 parts. Part 1 is on Steph's site so please read that first.

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!

NOTE: The following is continued from part 1 on Reviewer X's blog.

Steph: This is a book about alienation, ostracism, and loneliness – it’s not just about rape. In fact, Melinda doesn’t mention what happened to her until pretty late into the novel. I think that while it’s evident the assault is a major part of the plot, it resides in the subtext. The way it is handled helps those who feel exactly like Melinda but for different reasons relate to her. This is the part of the novel that got to me the most because her observations were right on the mark and poignant.

Lenore: You know, Melinda seems resigned to being rejected, and it hurt to read because you just feel like so much of her suffering could have been avoided had she just SAID something from the beginning. What is your take on the title – does it seem a little ironic seeing as Melinda hardly ever says anything?

Steph: Melinda omits a lot of what happened to her at first, but the narrative itself is straightforward. There is no guesswork to be done about what Melinda means—she thinks it simply and she thinks it clearly, even if she never physically says anything. There’s a power behind that, especially in connection with the reader. I love how this novel is vivid and contains great imagery without resorting to ornate prose.

Lenore: That’s so true. You know, I have mixed feelings about the Heather character. I did feel a bit sorry for her. She’s new in town and wants desperately to have friends and all she ends up is mopey Melinda who never wants to do anything. Heather can’t know what happened to Melinda, and yet, even though she sees she’s depressed, she never even tries to dig deeper and have a heart to heart. OK, maybe Melinda might not have been ready to open up at that point, but at least give her a chance. As for trying to be a Martha? Bad call.

Steph: My favorite character is the free-thinking art teacher, Mr. Freeman. From the get go, he’s the intuitive force of nature who will help Melinda break out of her shell. Melinda realizes this, too—when everyone is going on about how insane he is, she’s thinking he’s the sanest person she knows. I love how he teaches creative expression as an outlet for the soul and a basic necessity for a well-adjusted person. How real he is—emotional, crazy, sometimes a little irrational. And I love his quotes. But those taken out of context are not nearly as powerful, so I won’t ruin it for everyone.

Lenore: Yes, Mr. Freeman (now there’s a name with symbolism!) is really the polar opposite of Mr. Neck, the authoritarian teacher who only respects his own opinion. Mr. Neck certainly doesn’t encourage anyone to speak out or speak up for themselves. But do readers take the title to heart? Does it give them the courage to talk about what's going on their lives? Many people say it does. And I hope so. Laurie Halse Anderson has said she didn’t write the novel with a message in mind, but rather she just wanted to tell a good story: “Good books reflect the human experience, and we all learn from that.” (SPEAK Platinum edition bonus materials)

Both: Hear, Hear.

Thanks for joining us!


bermudaonion said...

You two have really piqued my interest!

avisannschild said...

Me too! I'm just starting to rediscover YA books and this one sounds like one I should add to my must-read list!

Anna Claire said...

I haven't read this book but I want to, and think LHA's blog is great.

I love that "she has said she didn’t write the novel with a message in mind, but rather she just wanted to tell a good story." I think all books should be written like that :)

Shalonda said...

I am so glad to see you both talking about Speak! It is one of my favorites. I think it is such an important and awesome read that everyone should take a close look at!

Yay to you and Steph!

Katie said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Speak! =]

H said...

Really enjoying these. And I agree with you about Mr Freeman. If only I'd had an art teacher like that!

susan said...

The discussion of this book is a great opportunity to discuss what a reader brings to read and how own personal experiences color our perceptions.

While Anderson did not set out to make a point, the central issue of this book is about the aftermath of rape.

I believe the rape comes off as a subtext for two reasons: 1)because that is how Melinda processes it. The subtext reflects how a victim copes and 2)Who wants to focus on the ugliness of rape? Neither a reader or victim. Much easier to couch the issue and to deflect. The humor is in part a coping mechanism or at the least a device that helps a reader who has been a victim, get through the read. The humor however does not detract from the experience nor the aftermath.

Having read several comments on across blogs, it is interesting me that a great deal of the comments talk about everything but how a girl is affected by rape.

Many rape victims are like Melinda, trying to go on and act normal when they don't feel normal at all and the rest of the world has no clue how abnormal the victim feels. The responses to the novel suggests to my thinking how we as a society have difficulty discussing rape and abuse.

I bought this book because I work with girls who have been raped, abused and some who are so desperate for the guy, that they end up in situations that spiral out of control like they did for a 14-year-old, Melinda.

I reviewed this in December. Got zero comments. If anyone is interested it's here.

Staci said...

I loved this book and recommend it to my kids at school any chance I get. This is a great feature and I look forward to tomorrow's post!!

susan said...

"it’s not just about rape."

I am trying to put this in the perspective I'm sure you intended. But I have to speak up and say that I suspect this makes a lot of rape survivors wince.

Less than 50 pages in many readers knew what the trauma was and why Melinda was not directly addressing the issue.

Are we forgetting this the implication of the title? This is a about a girl's struggle to speak up, to speak to the anger, guilt, frustration and hurt of being raped and not knowing how to deal with it. This is about an ability to speak, being cutoff from yourself.

This is not the bumble-gum flavor of the week. This is about a traumatic event that deeply affects girls and women everywhere.

Has anyone thought how a survivor sees this book?

Mrs. Magoo said...

I absolutely loved Speak!! Now I can't wait for Wintergirls!

Alea said...

:) I've only seen the movie which just killed me but yes, that art teacher. Man!

Erika Powell said...

i really need to read this!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Hi Susan! Thanks for your input.

Steph was just trying to say why she can relate to the book even though she hasn't been raped and why she thinks anyone, even if they are not rape survivors, could also relate to it.

We definitely did not intend to trivialize the seriousness of the subject matter.

susan said...


I do not think anyone meant to trivilize the issue. My concern is rather intentional or not, the tone and replies strike me as a desire to steer as clear away from rape as possible when the issue of rape and the consequences of are are central. And the stark difference between how a survivor and outsider perceive this book is striking and worth discussing.

This novel provides the context to discuss what it means to have this experience and to move on. Even if you haven't had the experience, that doesn't preclude discussing the dangers of drinking, sneaking out and putting yourself at risk.

There has been more talk about Mr. Freeman and Heather than Melinda. And where is the outrage at the rapist or the frustration at watching Melinda hurting herself?

There is a noticeable absence of survivors contributing to this discussion. And little wonder when the tone is akin to giggling over the latest chick lit book. Hardly an atmosphere to discsuss pain, anger, depression and recovery.

I do not regret sharing an unpopular opinion. I'm coming from a real life perspective where date rape is too prelevant and the audience here is too large not to speak up.

Lenore Appelhans said...

The idea behind Part 1 and Part 2 of this feature was just for Steph and me to read the book
and then share our impressions, which I’ll agree is a limited scope. And neither of us is a survivor of rape per se. I did have a situation as a teen exchange student in South America where my host father came on to me and touched me inappropriately. Fortunately, he came to his senses and no assault occurred. I spent a rather sleepless night in shock, but I told a trusted friend at school the next morning and she accompanied me to the organization. The result was a rather convoluted lesson in the cultural politics of South America and as such, although I considered mentioning it, I felt like the whole story would veer too much off topic.

As far as outrage towards the rapist, of course I am outraged! That we both were was understood as obvious to both of us, which is why it wasn’t a top discussion point for us. Apparently, it should have been.

Melinda is most definitely the focus of our discussion. The other characters are only mentioned in relation to her. Should Heather have tried harder to get Melinda to speak? Can we see in her our own failings to support hurting friends? Can teachers learn from the different teaching styles of Mr. Freeman and Mr. Neck and try harder to create environments which are conducive to discussion and speaking up?

Ladytink_534 said...

Good book talk and you brought up some interesting points. I haven't read this yet but I think I remember seeing a little of the movie adaptation.

Alea said...

Seeing as though I haven't read the book I can't really say but to me the whole movie was about rape and I found that art teacher to be kind of her guiding light into speaking up, hence why I like him so much.

Anonymous said...

On the title: one of my favorite scenes in the book is when Melinda rebels by refusing to speak during her class presentation, and then her fellow student (whose name I forget -- it's been a while since I read this) challenges her a bit on it. He respects her choice, but also pushes her; doesn't any real rebellion involve speaking up?

There's a lot in this book, although as Steph said, it's all conveyed with very simple and immediate prose. This is one of Anderson's major strengths, in my opinion.

On Susan's point: I actually think there's a surprising benefit, from the perspective of combating date rape, to what I think Steph was pointing out: that the way this book is structured is that a wide variety of people who've experienced depression can identify with Melinda, before necessarily learning the reason for her depression.

In the book's Platinum Edition, there's an interview with Anderson where she reports hearing from teenage boy after teenage boy that they loved the book, felt that it spoke to the experience of depression in a way that other books haven't, etc -- but they were surprised that a rape would be so traumatic for Melinda. Anderson talks about being surprised and horrified the first time she heard this, but hearing it again and again.

The fact is, nobody is teaching a lot of boys some things they need to know -- certainly, there's not a strong women's movement at present putting this message out -- and I think Anderson's book does something really valuable by conveying that through a character whose pain is easily identified with.

And finally, it's a credit to the teachers and librarians who bought and assigned this book, especially when it was being censored, that so many teenage boys and girls got to read it in the first place.

Shooting Stars Mag said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shooting Stars Mag said...

Great post. I don't think it should be a big deal what Steph and Lenore do or do not decide to discuss in their post about this book. It's merely a celebration of this amazing novel and for those that read it, you get the impact of what has happend to Melinda and I like that even if you aren't a rape victim, you can relate to various things in her life and the lives around her.


Steph said...

Susan -

I intend on posting a more thoughtful comment later (I'm in a hurry >.<), but I just want to clarify my 'it's not just about the rape comment':

I believe that with every book I and you and anyone else reads, they are imprinting a part of themselves onto the text and leaving with a meaning that is unique to them alone. There's no exact science for how a reader will interpret a certain book. So while I'm well aware that this is, at first glance, a book about rape, I don't believe it's all it is. The rape is the circumference; we still have the entire circle to cover.

You relate to the title Speak and say it's about a girl speaking up about her rape. I took a different view about that - to me, it was simply 'Speak.' No matter what you have to say: Speak. Which is why I didn't talk about rape in depth in our feature - I'm speaking about what I relate to. Lenore is doing the same. We're trying to share this book with anyone and everyone who's ever been silenced.

That is how I read Speak.

There's a video of Laurie reading a poem she wrote about the responses she's gotten over the last decade for Speak. A section of it is devoted to girls who've related to it not because they were raped, but because they've felt lost, too. The poem encompasses every reader this book has ever had, no matter their background, and shows what Speak meant to them. I'll post a link in a bit - you should watch it, it's really powerful stuff.

All this said, like Lenore said, we're not downplaying the rape on purpose. We're just being truthful about how the two of us related to it. Our tone, word choice, and message is only as strong, adequate, effective, etc as the way the person reads it. There's no way we could cover every single theme present in the text, or make it to where everyone is fine with what we say or agrees with us. But that's okay. We're Speaking.

That, I think, above all else, is the point.


Amee said...

I don't understand what Susan is going for. This isn't your feature, your blog(s), or your personal reading of the book. Why are you trying to steer the conversation and dictate what should and shouldn't be discussed? By all means, give your opinion on the aspects of the book no one else is discussing, but don't put down everyone else for not catering to what you think should be discussed. Steph was right, the book is not all about the rape. There is so much more to discuss. And I think it pretty much goes without saying that everyone hates rapists and the act of being raped without having to literally say it.

I personally haven't read this book yet. I would have absolutely zero interest if Steph and Lenore hadn't presented this discussion the way they did. If they only talked about the rape, I would have no way to relate to the book. The way they presented it being about depression, loneliness, etc. gives me reason to read it.

susan said...


My intention is to add another perspective. I am not looking for agreement nor to persuade. I think in a discussion, you share your perspective and you respect the rights of others to embrace or reject your take.

This in not a personal indictment against Lenore and Steph. I like and respect Lenore and we have enjoyed a good rapport. I don't know Steph, but if I did, that isn't the issue. My focus is the text and subsequent discussion. It's about message not messenger.

I suspected sharing how I felt would be problematic and generate some criticism. And that's okay. The whole point is to engage.

Amee said...

But Susan, you didn't simply add another perspective. You criticized everyone for not sharing your perspective and focusing on what you thought was less important. That's what I was talking about.