Thursday, June 17, 2010

Speak

Speak
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Puffin Books, 1999
198 pages

This book may be eleven years old, but it's still #1 on several Amazon.com lists. It won tons of awards, including a Golden Kite and ALA Printz Honor, and it was a finalist for a 1999 National Book Award (those are just a few of the awards/nominations it received). I've wanted to read it for years. So why did it take me so long to finally crack it open? Maybe I was waiting for just the right time to pass it along to my niece. After all, she's about to enter the the lovely institution known as . . . High School [insert scary music here.]

Main character Melinda Sordino is starting her freshman year, which is traumatic enough for anybody. In Melinda's case, though, it's immediately obvious that something's up. She's been outcast from her circle of friends for calling the cops on a recent teenage party. What Melinda's friends don't know is why she called the cops, and Melinda's not talking. To anyone.

Instead, she slowly unravels while observing the world around her: cliques at school ("Jocks", "Marthas", etc.), weird teachers (with interesting, descriptive names such as Hair Woman, Mr. Neck, and Ms. Keen), mostly absent parents, and her one glimmer of hope - Biology Lab Partner David, who somehow manages to be popular and nice without joining any of the cliques. Her only friend is Heather, the new girl at school, who eventually dumps her in order to be more socially accepted by one of the cliques. The one teacher who seems to sense something's up is Mr. Freeman, the art teacher, for whom Melinda's sole assignment all year is to create an artistic piece involving a tree. The tree thing - combined with a new interest in plants thanks to Biology (her second favorite class) - turns out to be instrumental in Melinda's recovery.

Eventually, of course, we learn what happened that night when Melinda called the cops. When it appears that her ex-best friend, Rachel, may soon be in a similar situation, Melinda finally speaks . . . in an effort to save Rachel from the same fate. But Rachel's response is to get upset and call Melinda a liar. This leads to a climactic scene at the end. I'm doing my best to avoid spoilers here. You just have to read the book.

And do read the book . . . maybe not instead of seeing the movie but in addition to it. (I learned just before I wrote this review that there was a Speak movie in 2004, starring none other than Kristen Stewart -- Becca in the Twilight movies -- as Melinda. I'm sure that my niece will want to see it, since she's a fan of all people and things Twilight.) The movie and book are quite different, apparently, so if you "just" see the movie you'll be missing a lot.

Can't wait to get my niece's take on this.