Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Published in 1999

external image speak.jpg

Summary and Book Review

Imagine going through high school with no friends and a horrible secret that you cannot discuss with anyone. Welcome to the life of thirteen year old Melinda Sordino, a girl who used to be "normal." From the very first step off the bus on her first day of school as a freshman, Melinda is alone. After calling the police at a wild party during the summer, her closest friends have abandoned her and random classmates snub her. Even worse is how Melinda has trouble connecting with her teachers, other than her art teacher who is struggling with aspects of his own life. Melinda summarizes how she feels when she insists "it is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say (Anderson 9). She is feeling lonely and secluded, and since her classmates have turned against her, she has no one to talk to.

The events from the summer's party haunt Melinda, but nobody knows the real reason that she called the police--they only know that she got them and other people they know into trouble. Speak covers the life of this young girl on her journey through a unique high school experience.

The reader follows Melinda through her daily life as a teenager. It shows all of the things she has to go through because of what happened to her, and how she copes with them. We're able to see how every aspect of her life is thrown into a tale spin, and just how hard it is for her to pull out and get back on course. Through the novel, she grows, changes and eventually learns how to use her voice once again. Readers share in the pain, anguish and bullying Melinda faces and become investing in the life of this young girl. The story is both captivating and interesting, and hard to put down once you've started reading.

Recommendations for Teachers

Speak contains content that high school students would be able to relate to. Social behavior and interactions between peers are two important things teachers could address in discussion. However, some of the events in the book are rather explicit and may not be appropriate for the classroom. Some of these things include:
  • Sexual content, rape
  • Violence
  • Language
  • Teen partying
  • Drugs and alcohol

Anderson creates and develops characters that fit different stereotypes. From the "Marthas" to the "Big Hair Chix," Anderson realizes that these groups also serve to help readers relate to the story. Outsider Melinda likely represents, to a certain degree, a feeling that all high schoolers have endured before. The author not only sets up the story and events in a creative way, but she offers real life solutions to Melinda's problem that students can learn from. Melinda talks to a mentor and uses her artistic talents to work through her loneliness. Teachers can offer different avenues of support for students in their classrooms that may be going through some of the same things. Speak could certainly serve as a reference for inspiration in the life of a student that is battling their own demons.

Speak also incorporates literary elements that could be discussed with students. Because the high school relevance of the book is intriguing, students are likely to engage in the reading without paying much attention to the literary merit of the writing. Why not surprise the students by revealing the rich elemental nuggets hidden throughout the text that captured their attention so well? A particular literary element alive within the text is symbolism. Symbolism is littered throughout the text in many ways. Particular symbols include:
  • Trees--growth, renewal, strength
  • Rabbits--fear, paranoia
  • Mascots--uncertainty of identity
  • Sanctuaries
    • Art Room--Melinda's art teacher analyzes her through her artwork and manages to "figure her out" when no one else can
    • Closet--isolation; items hidden within closet parallel Melinda's true feelings hidden within herself--for example, a picture of Maya Angelou hanging in the closet is certainly significant--Maya was raped and would understand the difficulties that Melinda must endure.
Additional information for teaching the text are actually available on Laura Halse Anderson's web page...here you can find links to lesson plans and great ideas for the classroom!

About the Author, Laurie Halse AndersonPortrait9.jpg

Laurie Halse Anderson was born October 23, 1961 in Potsdam, New York. "She was born Laurie Beth Halse. This would be a good place to clear up the matter of the pronunciation of her name, because it is, after all, her name, and she is weary of hearing it mangled by well-meaning people. Halse rhymes with waltz. Not “hal-see.” No, no, no, no. Halt-z. If she could have anything she wanted, it would be world peace, but if she could have a second thing, it would be having people say her name correctly" (from www.writerlady.com). Laurie graduated from Georgetown University in 1984 with a B.S.L.L. in Languages and Linguistics. Once Laurie realized people would pay her to write, she became a freelance reporter. After many forms of rejection and criticism, she joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and found a supportive critique group. Amongst other novels, Anderson wrote Speak which was published in 1999. Speak was a National Book Award Finalist, a Printz Honor book, a Booklist “Top10 First Novels of 1999”, a New York Times bestseller, and lots more. Speak was quickly placed into curriculums at hundreds of middle schools, high schools, and colleges around the country. Speak was Laurie's first novel. Anderson is also the author of three picture books: No Time for Mother's Day, Turkey Pox, and Ndito Runs.

Picture Books/Middle-Grade Readers
Thanks You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, Simon & Schuster, 2002.
The Big Cheese on Third Street, Simon & Schuster, 2002.
No Time for Mother’s Day, Albert Whitman, 1999.
Turkey Pox, Albert Whitman, 1998.
Ndito Runs, Holt, 1996.
Wild at Heart (series of 12 books), Pleasant Company.
Young Adult Readers
Prom, Viking, 2005.
Catalyst, Viking, 2002.
Fever 1793, Viking, 2000.
Speak, Viking, 1999.


This is a movie made of still shots taken from the film version of "Speak".

This is a more artistic interpretation of the plot of the movie, and Melinda's feelings throughout.


The Official Laura Halse Anderson Website Take a look at the resources available on the website of the author herself.
Lesson Plan Ideas Here are some links to ideas for the classroom shared by teachers of Speak
Speak WebQuest This is a web quest activity designed for middle school students. Students will learn about the realities of rape.
TeenReads.com: Author Profile and Interviews This is a website that gives a short biography about Laurie and a few interviews.
Lesson Plan for Speak An actual lesson plan made by Grant T. Smith, Ph.D., Useful InformationViterbo University, Wisconsin.
Mad Woman in the Forest: Mumbles, Mutters, and Shrieks Take a look at Laurie's very own blog.
Teacher's Perspective This website contains a Kathie Mace's Speak website.
Other Books By Laurie Halse Anderson on Amazon.com View and purchase other books this author has written.
Add Laurie Halse Anderson as a friend on Facebook.com Use this social network to speak to Anderson directly.
Ramble's Article on the Book A Cultural Arts Magazine writes about the novel.
Anderson's Biography Teenread's Author Profile for Anderson
Fanlisting for Melinda Sordino Fans of the main character come here to discuss real issues.

Additional Information

Information on Sexual Assault
Assistance for Sexual Assault Victims