The Continued Relevance of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

By Angel Stone, The University of Arizona

“It is easier not to say anything,” thinks Melinda Sordino, a high school freshman in the book Speak who feels she cannot share her story of rape. In Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel, which will soon release as a graphic novel illustrated by Emily Carroll, Melinda shows us the dangers of hiding our most difficult experiences and the importance of speaking about them openly. Melina is fictional, but the fear she faces is real and can have lasting effects. We hear her story in every corner of our world from high school to entertainment to politics. Each one of us at some point face challenges that we don’t know how to share.

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

In recent weeks, many women and men spoke out about sexual violations that occurred in their youth. Actors like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow found strength to speak about their abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. Women also came forward to accuse their abusers like Roy Moore, who gained political power only to abuse it. Movie directors, politicians or, in Melinda’s case, popular seniors, most often get away with their crimes. They hold power, real or perceived, over their victims. The abused victims fear that others won’t hear, believe or care about their stories. This power even influences those whom the victim might trust. In Speak, when Melinda finally shares her story, her friend doesn’t believe her, or want to believe her, because of her rapist’s position of power.

This distrust is common in real life too, which makes it understandable that victims find it difficult to share their stories. We can help victims who fear speaking out. #MeToo, a global phenomenon highlighting the prevalence of abuse, combats the dismissal that victims previously experienced and gives them a voice. The importance of Anderson’s novel cannot be overstated in this social climate. Melinda’s experience stands out as an example of why we need to share our stories. Her ability to recover from her trauma and the strength she shows when confronted by her attacker are the examples we need to move past the acceptance of abuse and blaming victims.

Sexual abuse of young people includes adolescent males. This year, the administration at a Chandler, Arizona high school ignored routine sexual hazing of members of the football team. Students at a high school in Norman, Oklahoma protested the sexual abuse of its female students by walking out of school. #MeToo takes on new meaning in France, where victims choose to use #BalanceTonPorc, or “out your pig,” to reveal the identity of their abusers rather than solely declare their sexual assault.

Anderson’s Speak has helped young people deal with abuse for over 15 years. Melinda’s experiences help countless young people deal with their own traumas. In February 2018, Emily Carroll’s graphic novel will inspire new readers of the story to speak in a whole new way. Both Anderson and Carroll will appear at the 2018 Tucson Festival of Books. Catch them together on a panel discussing Speak – The Graphic Novel.

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