Sunday, 11 January 2009

Speak / Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary - Since the beginning of the school year, high school freshman Melinda has found that it's been getting harder and harder for her to speak out loud: "My throat is always sore, my lips raw.... Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter or freeze.... It's like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis." What could have caused Melinda to suddenly fall mute? Could it be due to the fact that no one at school is speaking to her because she called the cops and got everyone busted at the seniors' big end-of-summer party? Or maybe it's because her parents' only form of communication is Post-It notes written on their way out the door to their nine-to-whenever jobs. While Melinda is bothered by these things, deep down she knows the real reason why she's been struck mute...

Review - I studied Children’s Literature at university and at no point was this novel every listed or discussed. How did that happen? This novel is very highly regarded and decorated but took me four book stores to find a copy. When I did find a copy, I didn’t get the striking tree and face cover but this one except in bright pink with black writing (yes, you did catch me judging a publisher by it's cover lol). Wholly unsuitable in my mind.

I think Anderson’s style is something that made me uncomfortable, which is fitting when you think of the character and the event that changed her. Such short, choppy paragraphs made it difficult to involve myself but I think that was the point. Most of the time I felt like I was walking through a laundanum dream, forced to drift through Melinda’s mostly passive existance. Only in the scenes when IT appear did the page jump, Melinda recoiling and clenching in his presence. The pages almost seemed to crackle along with her. I found this book to be highly effective, powerful but to be honest I don’t know if I can read it again.

Four days later and I am still in a quandry to what I really thought about this book. There is biting humour, great observations on social hierarchy, the nature of isolation, the power to speak and strength. I can recognise all of this but in the end I think I found it difficult because I teach thirteen year olds. Surely I should be able to remove myself? In this case, I cannot. I feel like I failed in this review.

Published: 1999
Format: Paperback , 230 pages
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
Origin: USA

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Laurie Halse Anderson's Official Website
Laurie Halse Anderson's Blog - Mad Woman in the Forest (great title)