Saturday 6 August 2011

REVIEW - 'Speak', Laurie Halse Anderson (2001, Hodder, UK)

Melinda starts high school as an outcast and must survive the year, abandoned by her friends, struggling to communicate with her distracted and warring parents and being eaten from the inside by a horrific secret that has taken her over.

I have to admit, I tend to give issue based reads a bit of a wide berth. I'm not saying this is correct and I'm sure I'm missing out on many a gripping read. But after the twitter furore surrounding the recent Wall Street Journal piece (see my blog post on the matter), I felt it was my duty to delve a bit further into the darker depths of the YA genre courtesy of one of it's main players. And, of course, I'm so glad I did.

Coming from sleepy middle class English surburbia and attending a rather conservative all-girls school in my youth, the American high school experience is such a departure from my own memories, yet, from immortalisation on page and screen, it remains achingly familiar and fascinating all rolled into one.

 'Speak' tells the tale of a young girl in the aftermath of a brutal attack, abandoned by those who are supposed to offer support, struggling to merely exist in her first year of high school. The structure follows the many events that make up a school year; the sporting events, the art projects, the clamour for acceptance, and our narrator watches on, only desiring invisiblity. And for the most part, she gets it, expect from the person she wants to be reminded of the least.

Halse Anderson's characters are spot on; the impatient parents, the disillusioned teachers, the fickle friends. And she never betrays the voice of Melinda, all the more heart-breaking, because the character's wit and intelligence shines through, showing us her potential. The gradual reveal of Melinda's secret is skillfully done, exposing a girl who, at first glance appears to be an introverted girl with self-esteem issues into a victim of a traumatic and horrific act.

My one gripe, and it is a tiny one; why does Melinda have to excel at something to be accepted, or accepted to a certain degree? The world is full of average students, not 'brilliant' at anything, but muddling through, scraping by. Why is it necessary for our heroine to have a hidden sporting prowess? I felt just a little let down by this towards the end. It undermines her quest for normailty somewhat. Can't we just have a heroine who can be heroic and average?

Like a said, minor gripe. This ticks all the boxes, and was a gripping read, which is all you could ask, really. I delayed a day's housework for it. What more can I say?

1 comment:

  1. I read this book awhile ago, so I don't remember all of the details really. And while I don't remember it being an issue when I read Speak, I know I do get annoyed with the whole excelling thing in other books I read for the same reason as you mentioned. Still, wonderful book.