Silence is not golden

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished this book in less than 2 hours. So compelling was the story, I could not, literally, put it down. Mel (Melinda) was a protagonist who struck a chord with me immediately. The soul-destroying microcosm of the world that high school can be came flooding back as I read this amazing Laurie Halse Anderson novel. After hearing Laurie speak about this book at the Reading Matters conference a few weeks ago, it was a must-read and it did not disappoint.

Mel had friends, good grades, and an okay family life before starting high school, but over the summer break something happened to change that. At first we are in the dark, trying to guess what has led to this state of affairs, but slowly Mel starts to reveal her story to us. There was a party, and Mel called the cops. There is a hint of something more under the surface, something that has made Mel withdrawn and increasingly unable to function normally. In her darkening world the only spots of light come from Art class, where her teacher Mr Freedman encourages her to express her inner emotions, and Biology where her lab partner is David Petrakis, who at least treats her like a human being. Her parents are clueless and not once do they really TALK to her, which was frustrating to read. When Mel’s parents are called to a meeting with the Principal and guidance counsellor, her mother cries, “why are you doing this to us?” This kind of sums up their relationship and my fervent hope for Mel was that this would change.

And then she connects with Ivy, from her Art class. Without even realising it is happening, she starts to claw her way back. One of my favourite moments in the novel is when Heather, a fair weather friend if there ever was one, tries to get Mel to help her decorate the prom venue after being left in the lurch by the rest of the popular girls. When Mel refuses to help her, Heather whines and carries on and Mel totally blows her off. I felt triumphant for her as I read this sequence, having been the girl in high school (and beyond) who often was put on the spot by “friends” to help with various things and could not say “no”. I know the power of NO, and it was great to see Mel embracing it and reclaiming some of herself.

I found the resolution of this story to be realistic and satisfying. I wanted to cheer, but instead I cried. I felt the release Mel felt as all the truth about the events of the party were revealed and she stepped up to take her life back from the brink.

I think every thirteen year old should read this, girl or boy – doesn’t matter. There is much to be learned in this novel. Laurie is a wonderful writer and her language is so evocative it is a pleasure to read. Another back catalogue for me to catch up with.
Highly recommended.