**TRIGGER WARNING** Issue of rape addressed
**SPOILER ALERT** Novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson discussed in full detail
I recently re-read one of my favorite books ever written, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and realized it’s strong feministic values and life-lessons that I felt obligated to write about for ShoutOut! Speak is about a girl named Melinda who struggles in coming to terms with, and speaking out against, her rapist in high school. Powerful in content, this award winning novel is also inspiring in content – filled with negative views of patriarchy and skims the concepts of hegemony and oppression. Though there has been backlash in the past about the book’s importance of being kept in high school libraries, I think I need to share with you now, why I find this YA novel so incredibly inspiring and an essential-read to young women.
The story begins when incoming high school freshman, Melinda, after being raped at an end-of-summer party, inebriated, and not knowing what else to do, called the police and ended the party resulting in many people being arrested. Discovered, she was then turned into a pariah and a scape goat for all who had been convicted, and, left unable to speak up about the event to anyone she knew, turned against by her friends who believed she had betrayed them.
The rapist, formally named Andy but Melinda refers to him as “the beast” or “it” throughout the remainder or the novel, continues to torture Melinda in the halls of their high school. He purposefully brings forth painful memories through subtle and psychological torment. This is only one example of constant harassment that Melinda suffers from domineering and overassertive male characters. A representation of the continued patriarchal theme throughout the novel, these men, including the principle and her science teacher, are constantly creating stress and furthering torment for Melinda, which only adds to the fear that keeps her silent about the truth.
The foil to these characters is Mr. Freeman, the free-spirit strong and yet compassionate male art teacher with whom Melinda finds solace. It is largely due to this mentorship connection, that Melinda is finally able to “speak” the truth by first accepting and challenging her demons. This climax occurs once Melinda actually confronts Andy and he attempts to rape her a second time. This time though, Melinda finds her voice, finally ending her silence, (which rightfully convicts the rapist) and is able to come to terms with her past.
Though Andy is the true antagonist and evil-doer in this novel, I love the dichotomy of Melinda’s own inner self and her struggles between being the Melinda who wants to speak up, and the Melinda who’s scared to. I don’t believe that in any way this takes away from “It” being the real adversary of the novel, but instead provides a true and inspiring example to girls of how this type of empowerment within themselves can be what’s needed to bring justice against rapists.
The amazing thing to me, as I alluded to earlier, is that there was a man who tried to get Speak banned in school libraries. He expressed that the book, specifically, the rape scenes it possesses, is equivalent to “soft pornography.” Because, yes, a good rape scene (which is not even graphic – if that were even the issue here) is what is turning the kids on these days. Soft pornography my ass! This man should be taken a very close look at if he is considering this inspiring anti-rape novel as pornographic, because who knows what kind of mysoginistic sick-o he must be!
Luckily, self proclaimed feminist and author of many likewise importantly relevant and inspiring novels meant for developing teenage girls, Laurie Halse-Anderson, put out a call to action on her personal blog. It calls women and men to ‘speak’ out against this attempt at censorship and against silencing rape victims’ voices – specifically from the impressionable age group that this novel is directed towards. I don’t know about you all, but I have read almost every Laurie Halse Anderson novel and will continue to support her as one of the most inspiring, relevant, and thought-inducing YA authors and feminists I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I know this is certainly not the first injustice in banning an undeserving book – do you all have any book you’d like to stand up and ‘speak’ out for? Let’s band together here and support the lives of these novels on the bookshelves of those impressionable and developing youth who are intended to be equally transformed in opinion and inspired in action.