Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

On the eve of starting the next draft of my novel, I re-read this book for inspiration, book #34 in my 50 book challenge for the year. I’m thrilled to re-read. It’s something I did when I was younger, before I got overwhelmed by all the good books out there. But re-reading is a practice, even a skill, that I want to cultivate. The first time I go through a book, I read to see what happens. I race ahead to find out. Subsequent readings allow me to savor the the choices the author made in terms of language, craft, and story.

Speak is teen fiction, and one of my favorite books, not only of recent years but perhaps ever. The main character and narrator is Melinda, who starts ninth grade with no friends, because she called the police during an end-of-summer party. Both times I read this, Melinda’s voice reached out and grabbed me, and hauled me along her very sad and yet extremely funny story.

It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache…

Older students are allowed to roam until the bell, but ninth-graders are herded into the auditorium. We fall into clans: Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants, Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eurotrash, Future Fascists of America, Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths, Shredders. I am clanless. I wasted the last weeks of summer watching bad cartoons. I didn’t go to the mall, the lake, or the pool, or answer the phone. I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don’t have anyone to sit with.

I am outcast.

The ending is so fitting that it flirts with overdetermination, yet it is so balanced that I don’t want to change one jot of it. I am frankly envious of the author who wrote such a compelling character, powerful voice, and wrenching story. I love this book.

This was also the eleventh book I finished this month. If I keep up this pace I’m going to beat my goal handily. Maybe I should give Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle a try. It feels as if the more I read, the more I’m able to read. Some of the books I’ve read this month were short, but some weren’t–one was the nearly 1,000-page Don Quixote! I feel I’m a better, faster reader than I was before I gave myself this challenge.

Comments are closed.