By Laurie Halse Anderson

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of a fourteen-year-old girl who is grappling with a life changing event. The summer before 9th grade, Melinda Sordino attends a party where she is raped by a senior named Andy Evans. Scared and confused, she calls the police and they crash the party. Following this incident, Melinda is socially rejected, even by her friends. She doesn't tell anyone what happened at the party, even to her parents. As she starts Merryweather High School in the fall, she has no friends or support and quickly sinks into depression. She becomes friends with a girl named Heather but they are both essentially using each other because both are friendless. Her grades suffer, she hardly ever talks, and spends a lot of time alone in a janitor closet. Her painful silence continues to eat at her, allowing her to bite her nails and lips uncontrollably. She sees Andy at school but refers to him as "IT" as he continues to antagonize her. However, Melinda finds sanctuary in her art class through expressing herself. Once Melinda finally starts to accept the fact that she was raped, things in her life start to get better. She slowly makes new friends and starts taking up new hobbies. As freshman year draws to an end, Melinda is again cornered by Andy but this time she bravely fights him off. She sheds light onto who Andy really is and earns respect from the people around her. By the end of the novel, Melinda has began to rediscover her identity and open up to people such as Mr. Freeman, her art teacher. She is no longer silent.

Character Analysis

Topic: Self-Infliction

One of the more subtle aspects of this novel is Melinda's use of self-infliction. When Melinda sees herself in the mirror she comments, "Two muddy-circle eyes under black-dash eyebrows, piggy-nose nostrils, and a chewed-up horror of a mouth...I can't stop biting my lips. It looks like my mouth belongs to someone else, someone I don't even know." (17). Melinda's constant biting of her lips is a coping mechanism, as she can not express her feelings in words. Melinda represents people who have alternate ways of coping with grief or problems. A lot of people, such as girls in Melinda's grade, judge her; "She's creepy. What's wrong with her lips? It looks like she's got a disease or something." (45). These girls obviously don't know what Melinda has been through and they "judge a book by its cover". Because people do that, it makes it even harder for victims to speak up.

As many depressed people do, Melinda actually briefly cuts herself as well; "I open up a paper clip and scratch it across the inside of my left wrist. Pitiful. If a suicide is a cry for help, then what is this? A whimper, a peep? I draw little windowcracks of blood, etching line after line until it stops hurting. It looks like I arm-wrestled a rosebush." (87). One might think doing that would extremely hurt, yet Melinda enjoys it, clearly showing signs of trouble.

Thoughts and Comments

I found this story extremely interesting and sad at the same time. I personally cannot relate to the story, but Anderson did a fine job showing us the possible life of a rape victim.

One thing that I didn't realize until the near end of the book was how little Melinda speaks throughout her tale. She has a strong voice, but she was unable to speak up. Most of the story is thoughts and comments in her head. It is interesting for readers to see all of her thoughts and how she views the outside world. She demonstrates that talking to yourself may help solve your problems. After finally standing up to Heather, many doors begin to open up for her and she finally admits things to herself.

This novel is quite compelling, making readers laugh and cry simultaneously the whole way through.


"When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time." (122).

When Melinda says this, she is really just referring to herself and the internal struggle of not speaking out. The quote also refers to her depression, meaning that she's slowly sinking into depression from lack of expression. When people think of expression, it often is associated with speaking. However, there are many other outlets that help people cope with problems. For example, Melinda uses art to express herself and her feelings which unconsciously helps her along the way.