Dare to Speak Up
(A Book Review by Laurie Halse Andersen’s Speak)
“Where can you run to escape from yourself?”
That line taken from the song Dare You to Move by the band Switchfoot come to mind while I was reading Speak by Laurie Halse Andersen, more so when I completely got to know Melinda Sordino from its pages and the traumatic experience she’s been through.
There’s something that’s been bothering Melinda since the start of her high school freshman year. Could it be her fall from grace by doing that not-so-cool stunt of calling the cops that got everyone busted at the senior’s big end-of-the-summer party? Could it be her rapid lapse in the school’s pecking order — one of the most popular students last year to being the outcast, the all-around jerk and loser now? Is it because her friends hate her from a distance and stopped talking to her altogether? Or is it because her parents haven’t the time to talk to her, to check in on her to have a word or two?
So she retreats, immersing herself in the safety bubble of silence as she realized that trying to speak her mind would get her only into further trouble making her all the more mute. There’s something in her that, try as she might to avoid, no matter how hard she suppress, wants itself to burst out. As it turns out Melinda’s seclusion within herself proves more risky than safe. Then comes a decisive moment that she must no longer keep her silence — and she would have to speak the truth as she finally understands that although it’s hard to stand up for yourself shutting your mouth is worse.
Speak is a book that’s difficult to talk about, not only for its hefty and unmentionable subject matter, but because its impact lies in keeping the reader in the dark behind the true reason behind Melinda’s downward spiral to paranoia and depression — God knows how I agonized over, carefully wording the brief introduction above just to keep it tightly, nicely under wrapped. But I got to say its nature is easy enough to discern in the beginning — hell, you might’ve a fair idea as to what it might be right about now, just by reading this review. Well, you have to read the book as to what it is or to confirm if you have the right suspicion.
Andersen’s presentation of the story in Melinda’s point of view couldn’t have been any better — for in doing so makes the experience brilliantly immediate. Hating her for her feeble attempts to be heard one time, yet refuse to see that there are others who would want to her help all along with what she’s going through while tugging at you heart, even make you shed a tear or two and even feel like cheering her up when the moment comes that she has to dig deep within to find the power to go on and to believe in herself again. Through her eyes we see the rigid conformity of high school, how they torture one another in the name of belonging; that in being alone, without friends and labeled different — if not eccentric — is enough to get you ostracized which, in the flimsy environment of high school, is like receiving a death warrant. Melinda’s narrative voice is reminiscent of Holden’s — aided with Andersen’s somewhat unfussy descriptions and dialogue — with her wry, self-deprecating humor and keen funny observations on the inanities of the world around her.
Melinda’s experience shows the heart of experience when adults don’t want to see that something is wrong, or if they do, don’t know how to bring it up. It also touches upon how small things in our daily interactions add up to create the big picture in how we relate to others and how they relate to you.
In my opinion one of the best lessons one could learn from the book is to be compassionate and try at least to understand, even if you can’t lend a hand, for there is always more going underneath the surface — always. I find it ironic that some of the disenfranchised teenagers Melinda represents still finds it hard to open up about their situation these days despite available technology, i.e. Facebook, Twitter and other blogging platforms, to which they can open up and express their concerns, if not help them locate groups that will aid them to somehow alleviate their suffering. Sorry if that one sound as though I’m taking lightly the problems that beset the Melinda’s of this world. I do fairly comprehend that exposing themselves in society might make them the object of ridicule and scorn. So that in way, for me, made the book’s message resonant and timely; that sadly sometimes we can’t make all people understand us. It left a deep mark as the realization dawned on me that we have to accept that having the opportunity to speak doesn’t always give us the privilege to be understood.
Maybe redemption has stories to tell
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
I dare you to lift yourself
To lift yourself up off by the floor
I dare you to move
Like today never happened
I dare you to move…
Published by Penguin Putnam for Young Readers
(Trade Paperback, 2003 Speak Edition)
Started: October 2, 2010
Finished: October 4, 2010
P.S. I once talked about this book on my blog post In Time for “Banned Books Week.”