Open the cover of the book Speak and you step through the doors of Merryweather High as viewed through the eyes of freshmen protagonist Melinda Sordino. Open the cover of Speak and you step into the head and heart of a pained girl that has suffered a tragedy.The author has a fresh and witty writing style, casting a thin sheet of humor over Melinda's painful secret.
Anderson has captured the essence of life for the typical, contemporary, American high school student. The cliques are ingeniously classified into clans, such as "Jocks," "Country Clubbers," "Big Hair Chix," "Cheerleaders," etc., and one boy in particular is called IT. Melinda says, "I am Outcast" (p.4). Formerly a "Plain Jane," she states that there is no reason to look for ex-friends. Hooked at this point, the reader can't stop now. Too curious to know why she is outcast and her former friends will not be seen with her, one reads on.
She becomes friends with Heather, a new girl from Ohio (the setting for this book is in Syracuse, N.Y.) who desperately wants to be in the "Martha" clan. She is a bit of a goody-two-shoes, always trying to impress people for all the wrong reasons. Around Valentine's Day, Heather drops the bomb on Melinda saying that she can't be friends with her any more because it damaging her image (she didn't know any better at the beginning of the year.) On Valentine's Day she secretly tapes a valentine to Melinda's locker. Melindas poor little heart is racing with excitement at the sight of a card, only to have it dashed when out falls Heather's half of a friendship necklace (this seems out of character to me. Heather was basically a nice person and I felt that this act was too vindictive to come from her.)
Throughout the story the author is weaving in bits and piece of a tree theme. Melinda randomly chooses tree as her yearlong art project. She struggles with it all year, never getting it right. Melinda has found an abandoned janitor's closet that she makes into a hideout. She tapes a poster of Maya Angelou up in her hideout, a hint to the reader as to what the painful secret may be (Angelou wrote a book about her own personal experience of being raped as a child.) In the third quarter of the book, the secret is revealed to the reader. Melinda was raped by IT at a party. She is slightly drunk, young and confused and can't stop him. After the assault, she went back into the party to call the police for help. The police come and bust the party, making everyone mad. She doesn't report the rape and no one knows the truth except for her and IT.
Towards the end of the year, Melinda musters up the courage to tell her ex-friend, Rachel, that Andy (IT), her new boyfriend, raped her at the party. Rachel is mad at first but ends up blowing him off at prom. Andy, ticked-off, tries to repeat the crime when he finds Melinda alone in her secret closet. She fights back, breaking a mirror and holding a piece of glass to his throat. The entire Lacrosse team is outside the door and Andy is exposed to all for the criminal that he is.
The tree theme that is threaded throughout the story is symbolism for life. The painful past may leave a scar on Melinda, but she is strong and will heal. She is a survivor and like a tree that has been trimmed to make way for new growth, so is Melinda. Speak is a beautiful, bitter-sweet story about emotional survival and, in the end, utter triumph in a teenage hell.
Anderson, Laurie Halse. 1999. SPEAK. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc. ISBN: 0-14-131088-X.