Speak

By Laurie Halse Anderson

Project By Lauren Stafford, Block F

What is "SPEAK"?

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‘Speak’, by Laurie Halse Anderson is a novel that takes place in the late 1990’s and follows the life of ninth grader, Melinda Sordino. At an end-of-summer party, Melinda calls the police and the party gets busted. None of Melinda’s friends will talk to her, but little do they know that she called the police because she was raped. Melinda finds comfort and safety by herself, inside her head. She is trying to distract herself from thinking about the party, and the horrible thing that was done to her. She feels like if she thinks about that night, her thoughts will consume her, and will blow her perfected disguise into pieces and she will have to speak the truth to the people around her.

"SPEAK" Summary

The August before Melinda Sordino’s Freshman year, she attends a party with her closest friends and it quickly spirals out of control. Melinda is uncomfortable at the party but drinks a few cups of beer and becomes drunk. She goes outside to get some fresh air and meets a gorgeous senior named Andy Evans. He begins to dance with Melinda and kiss her, and she is taken aback but too drunk to say anything to him. Andy takes her into the woods, pushes her to the ground, and rapes her. In Melinda’s confusion, she stumbles back into the party and dials 911. The police come and break up the party, but Melinda is in so much shock that she doesn’t tell anyone what happened to her. Students are arrested for underage drinking and some of them lose their jobs. When the students at the school learn that Melinda is the one who calls the police, she quickly becomes hated by the entire student body and all of her friends leave her. No one knows that she was raped. Melinda arrives on the first day of grade nine friendless, and receives glares from everyone around her. Melinda begins to slip into a depression and finds comfort in a janitors closet that she cleaned up, still avoiding telling anyone what happened to her that night at the party. Mr. Freeman, who Melinda’s art teacher, is the only person that seems to know that something is wrong with her. He observes her depressed behavior, and encourages Melinda to use her voice and express her feelings with her artwork. As time goes on, Melinda begins to admit to herself what happened that night and gradually stops running away from the memory. Eventually, the truth about what Andy did to Melinda comes to light when he tries to rape her again. This time, however, Melinda fights back and screams at the top of her lungs. The lacrosse team happens to be walking by and rescues her from Andy, and the next day, everyone knows what happened to Melinda and how horrible Andy Evans is. On the last day of school, Melinda sits in Mr. Freemans art room and finishes her yearlong art project. Mr. Freeman gives Melinda an A+ for her project, and tells her that he knows she has been through a lot. This statement really connected with Melinda, and she decides to tell Mr. Freeman her entire story. The Melinda that shines through at the end of the novel is entirely different than the Melinda that came to school friendless and stayed in the shadows on her first day of grade nine. This Melinda is prepared to seek help and accept what happened to her, because she knows that it was not her fault. This Melinda finally speaks.


Where Does "SPEAK" Take Place?

"Speak" takes place in Syracuse, New York in the late 1990’s. Melinda spends a lot of time at Merryweather High, in her closet, and at her house.

This book is fictional.

Who is Melinda Sordino?

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Melinda Sordino is a ninth grade student at Merryweather High. She is shy, reserved, insecure, and she doesn’t like to speak anymore because of what happened to her. She found comfort in a closet that she cleaned up and made her own in a hallway at her high school. She hid away in her closet when she was having a bad day, which was most days, and felt like she could escape into her own world and forget about the harsh reality that she was constantly living in. I really liked Melinda’s personality in the book because I felt like she had an interesting outlook on life, even though she was going through something really difficult. She found a way to find something negative in everything in her life, and I found that to be compelling, even thought it was incredibly sad. I got incredibly attached to Melinda while reading the book, and every little thing that happened to Melinda seemed to affect me too. I cared about her a lot, even though she is fictional, and I was really hoping for the best for her while I was reading. There were times in the book when I got upset when she was feeling really down because I wished that I could change what was happening to her. I wished that I could jump into the book and try to help her with what she was dealing with. Melinda’s last name ‘Sordino’ means “a mute” in Italian, and I feel like the author was very smart in choosing that. I believe that before Melinda was raped, she was a happy, bubbly girl with a lot of hopes and dreams. After the incident, Melinda no longer saw a future for herself and no longer aspired to be anything. She basically just wanted to disappear.

Who is Andy Evans?

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Andy Evans is a senior at Merryweather High, and is the boy who raped Melinda at the party. Andy is an overconfident, narcissistic, angry, and powerful teenage boy. He believes that he didn’t rape Melinda because he “doesn’t have to,” and that girls are constantly falling at his feet. Andy did not understand the concept of consent, and obviously wasn’t taught at a young age how to respect women. Personally, I think that Andy is a horrible human being and that he should be in jail. There is nothing that I like about him because of what he did to Melinda and how poorly he treated her afterwards. I didn’t care about Andy Evans in the book, but I cared about how he acted towards Melinda. While reading, I realized that I was not going to be upset if anything bad happened to him because I felt like he needed something to backfire on him and make him snap out of his insane world and realize that what he did to Melinda was not okay. Sadly, nothing horrible happened to Andy, but he did have a confrontation with Melinda towards the end of the book. It was a nasty fight, and I think that he got what he deserved.


Who is Heather?

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Heather was Melinda’s “friend” for a large part of the novel. Heather was new to the school from Ohio and relied on Melinda to show her around and help her adapt to Syracuse and Merryweather High. Heather started her friendship off with Melinda as being nice, but she gradually became more stuck-up and mean when she met another group of girls, “The Marthas.” The Marthas are the popular girls in grade nine at Merryweather High and helped organize events and the social aspects of the school. Heather began to use Melinda to help her with her first few Martha events, and it was making Melinda feel miserable. The Marthas spoke horribly about Melinda and Heather never said anything to defend her, rather she just went along with what they said because she didn’t want to be kicked out of the group. At one point in the novel, Heather told Melinda that she didn’t want to be friends with her anymore because she is “the most depressed person she has ever met,” and that she thinks she “needs professional help.” Later in the novel, Heather came crawling back to Melinda, and knocked on her door stressfully speaking about an upcoming Martha project that she needed help with. She assumed that Melinda was going to jump at the opportunity to help her, and went on and on talking about her life like nothing had ever happened and that she hadn’t ditched Melinda. Melinda very adamantly told Heather that she did not want to help her because all she did was make her feel horrible about herself. Heather was furious and never really spoke to Melinda again. Heather had an incredibly two-faced personality, and was only nice to Melinda when it benefited her and her social status. From the very beginning of the book I had a bad feeling about Heather, she seemed strange and I was very suspicious of her intentions. I wasn’t surprised when Heather ditched Melinda for the Marthas, but I was really hoping that she would choose to be a good person for once and stay with Melinda. Heather knew that Melinda was struggling with something, even though she didn’t express it through words, and I think that it was a really horrible move on Heather’s part to ditch Melinda.

‘Speak’ has a very ominous tone to it, but it is peppered with funny moments and thoughts from Melinda. This book will draw you in with its mysterious pages and sad chapters, and always make you wonder what will come next. It is very bittersweet, and will leave you either happy and content with the ending, or angry and wanting more. The book is really about Melinda overcoming her fears, finding her voice, and learning to speak again.

The Author Did a Fantastic Job

I really enjoyed the way this story was told because I felt like I had a direct view into Melinda’s mind, and that I could really translate how she was feeling based on the writing. Melinda didn’t have to say “I am sad” in order for me to know how she was feeling. The author perfectly described how Melinda was feeling just by her actions, and it helped me to understand more of the deep, untold part of the story. As a reader I had to think deeply about the bigger picture that was being described and this made it an interesting book to read because I had to be a fully involved reader. I also thought that it was interesting that the author made the decision to make Melinda’s last name “Sordino”, as it means “a mute” in Italian, because this is symbolic of Melinda as a character.

General Problems Addressed

This book addresses what it’s like to be a rape victim, to be bullied, to feel insecure, and to feel like you don’t have a voice in life. These are the main issues that “Speak” talks about, but I wish that the author discussed more about Melinda’s depression and how she was dealing with it. The book talked about how Melinda was awfully sad, but it never really got any deeper than that. We had to think about it in the bigger scheme of things, and I wished that the author told us more.

Theme

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I think that the theme of the book is not only about overcoming rape, but dealing with depression. I think that Melinda is depressed, and although depression isn’t brought up in the book, I think that it is one the unspoken themes that can define Melinda’s behaviour for a vast part of the book. Melinda is alienated from the kids at her school, and she isolates herself even more by staying in her closet and hiding from the world around her, which makes me believe that one of the themes may be alienation or isolation. She is also very secretive about what happened to her that night at the party, and she finds that to be the hardest thing to speak about. Because of this, I think that a theme of ‘Speak’ could be secrecy.


How it Affected Me

As I said before, this book affected me because I got incredibly attached to Melinda while reading. Every little thing that happened to Melinda seemed to affect me too. I cared about her a lot, and even though she is fictional, I was really hoping for the best for her while I was reading. There were times in the book when I got upset when she was feeling really down because I wished that I could change what was happening to her. I wished that I could jump into the book and try to help her with what she was dealing with. My opinion on rape has not changed because I still think that it is a horrible thing, and that no one should have to go through it. This book doesn’t relate to my own life or experiences because I haven’t had to go through something as bad as Melinda did, but I understand that it must have terrified her to speak out and tell people what happened to her.


Recommend

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I would recommend this book to young teens because I feel like it conveys a really powerful message. It is an incredibly good example of what it is like to deal with something really difficult and overcome your fears. This book made me think about all the people in the world dealing with difficult obstacles and made me think about how hard it must be for rape victims to speak out and tell people what happened to them. I think that this book gives insight into the unspoken problems people have to deal with when they have depression, and that many teens could learn from it. I know that I learned a lot from “Speak,” and I would recommend it to everyone I know.