SPEAK. even if it's just a whisper.

Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak. New York, Penguin Group, 1999.


About Speak

Go back to your first dayof high school... How was it? Were you excited, nervous, scared? There was probably a pit in your stomach and an anxious tickle in your throat.

Imagine walking through the halls alone, receiving painful glares from everyone you pass. You see your ex-best friends in the distance, but they can't run away from you fast enough. You try to talk to them, but they blatantly ignore you and treat you as if you are sub-human. Everything about school sucks. You have no friends, your teachers are crazy, and IT keeps haunting you.

IT. IT sends chills down your spine. You can't breathe and you simultaneously feel both numbness and tremendous pain. IT has completely ruined your life, but you can't bring yourself to tell anyone. You suffer in silence, terrorized with this horrific secret that begins to eat away at you day by day.

Do you feel it yet? The pain and horrible neglect from your peers? Well it's all your fault. YOU called the cops, YOU got the athletes and popular kids in trouble. Try dealing it without pain.

In Speak, you will read how Melinda struggles with adversity in high school. After a traumatizing night at a party where she is raped, Melinda endures many of the social problems affecting teens today: bullying at school, neglect at home, and self-depression. Experience these all-so-common teenage issues through Melinda and see how she struggles to overcome them over the course of the school year.

Will Melinda finally SPEAK up about what happened to her?

Recommendations for Teachers

Speak, a powerful novel about the pressures and difficulty of high school, is extraordinarily realistic and relevant to the lives of teenagers. It is likely that students will become sympathetic with Melinda, the protagonist, and find the book’s themes relatable to their own lives. In this way, students are likely to engage rather well in the book, especially because of the book’s controversial topics of drinking, rape, bullying, and depression.

However, because of these dramatic issues, the book has seen a lot of controversy. Many schools have banned or censored the book, because its subtexts are too revealing. Nevertheless, many educators argue that Speak is important to teach in the classroom. If a teacher is to use it in his or her curriculum, it is crucial that her or she is aware of the subject matter of the book and is prepared to teach it appropriately and competently. In this way, teachers can use the themes of the book as a precursor for discussing larger issues facing teens.

Possible Discussions While Reading:
  • Have students keep daily journals, where they respond to what they have read.
  • Discuss the "10 Lies They Tell You in High School"?
    • In reading the ten lies that Melinda identifies in her book, have students identify 10 truths. Discuss why it may be important to combat lies with truths.
  • Have students create their own art.
  • Role play with the students: They are not allowed to speak for the entire class person (or longer).
    • Discuss reactions.

Possible Discussions After Reading:
  • How does using first-person narration shape the story? Would the novel be different if it had been written in the third-person?
  • What role do adults play in the novel? How does this influence Melinda?
  • What is symbolic about Melinda's art project?
  • What role did the abandoned closet serve for Melinda?

Possible Topics to Discuss After Reading:

Possible Writing Prompts:
  • Write an additional journal entry after the novel ends.
  • Why is it important for adolescents to tell their own stories?
  • Why is art so important to Melinda's survival? Can you relate?


About Laurie Halse Anderson

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Laurie Halse Anderson was born October 23, 1961 in Potsdam, New York, and currently lives in Northern New York with her 4 children and husband. Anderson has been interested in writing since the second grade and started her career as a freelance reporter for magazines and newspapers. She started to write her own works, but was rejected many times before she found her catch in the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, or the SCBWI. She started writing children's books which became very popular, but debuted her young adult novel career with probably her most well-known book, Speak. Speak is New York Times bestseller, a Printz Honor Book, and was a National Book Award finalist. Anderson writes books specifically for kids and teens of any age. Many of her novels address problems that adolescents face every day like bullying, depression, stereotypes, etc. Speak was not the only successful novel she wrote. Three out of the four other young adult novels she wrote appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, and all received some other kind of recognition. Because of the popularity and beneficial teaching opportunities that are in her books, many schools have incorporated her books, especially Speak, into the curriculum.

Other popular young adult books by Laurie Halse Anderson:

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external image bc-prom.jpgPromexternal image bc-catalyst.jpgCatalyst


Below is a link to the first part of the movie "Speak." This film-adaptation brings life to the already vivid character's from Anderson's novel. The full movie is available on YouTube and can serve as a good resource while reading.

The song, "Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel, can be used to display another perspective in regards to silence. This song can be used as an example for a project, where students can make their own songs in response to reading Speak.

The topics analyzed in Speak are hot topics in today's teenage culture. Popular bands have written songs exploring such topics. Students can explore how such tough topics as date rape are portrayed in the media and how they feel about what they find. An example is the band Sublime's song 'date rape'.

Speak Podcast

Additional Resources:
These are additional resources that may be helpful in teaching "Speak":

--Torie Smith, Jessica Faleni, Emily Bock, & Danielle Veldheer