Written by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll
Published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux, February 6, 2018
My star rating: 4 stars
From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless–an outcast–because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her.
With powerful illustrations by Emily Carroll, Speak: The Graphic Novel comes alive for new audiences and fans of the classic novel. Find it on Goodreads
First of all, I need mention that there is a strong content warning including rape and sexual abuse. If this is a trigger for you, or upsets you in any way, be aware before looking into this book. As difficult as this book was to read in its subject matter, I’m glad that there are books out there like this. Topics such as rape aren’t meant to be an easy read. Nothing about that subject is easy. As someone who has no personal experience with this, I think it’s important to read about the situation, feel the emotions through the eyes of the victim, and follow their journey through their life after the attack. This was not only the character Melinda’s journey, but the author herself. When I opened the book there was an authors note where she stated that she herself was raped at the age of 13. I just can’t imagine. I can’t. In July my own daughter will be 13……….. I felt sick. Sick over the fact that this happened to the author, the fact that this happens to girls all over the world, and that this happened to a girl my own daughters age. It was an uncomfortable read, sure. But the journey of Melinda through her pain, acceptance, and healing was wonderful.
OK! So, that was a long and unintentional intro. Let me take a couple steps back. Even though this book was everywhere a few years ago, for some reason didn’t pick it up. So going into this graphic novel form, I had no prior knowledge of the full length novel. I was wondering if this would impact my understanding or enjoyment of this book, but it didn’t. I think that the only impact it had was that I wish I had a little more content, description, and emotion (which is what the full length novel would probably offer) and that lack of really in depth story is the only reason I took a star off the rating. But I still feel a little weird rating an own voices book, like I’m validating their experience or not. To rate this book I had to step back and look at the format, character development, writing and plot points.
Melinda’s journey was hard. Her desperation was so dark and raw. In the beginning we knew something happened at a party that she was struggling to deal with. It was also the same party that cost her many friendships as she had called the police and it ended up busting the party. Her reasons for making that phone call were what she held inside and told no one – thinking they would either not believe her or think that she was seeking attention. So she held it in and didn’t tell anyone. It was her isolation, and the fact that she felt so utterly alone that just ripped my emotions. She was just so desolate and abandoned. And every time she would consider reaching out, the blackness of her isolation would consume her. She was depressed because of what she was holding onto but yet she didn’t feel strong enough to talk to anyone about it, making it a never ending spiral of misunderstanding and torment. Those around her didn’t know what was happening so they couldn’t handle her emotions. To say it was raw is an understatement. The whole time I was reading all I could think was “if they just knew what happened then they would understand and help. They could support you!”. But that’s what happens in a situation like this (not speaking from personal experience here). The victim wonders if it’s their fault or if they’re overreacting and if they reach out then will the other person really understand? Like I said, never ending spiral.
I like how the story incorporated the issues of “the night of the party” along with the daily hell of high school. I too had a hard time in school. I think everyone does! You’re in the in between of child and the verge of an adult. You’re trying to figure out who you are and you don’t always make the best choices. You think that if you do one thing that it will make things better and people will like you more. But you end up hurting others. High school is hard enough without having to deal with an underlying issue.
What I liked most about this book was the glimmers of hope. Before she ever opened up and talked to someone, she was starting to heal all on her own. Taking these small things in her life and being able to move past the pain and personal torment and trying to come back to the person she was before. She would find happy things with her friends, parents, and teachers and find the light. Her character arc was dark, but the small glimmers of hope slowly brought her out of the hell she was living. She used her art assignment to pour her emotions out and that was just beautiful. When I was in high school I did the same thing. I would use my art to reflect the things I was feeling and it always made me feel better – even if the things I was putting on paper were bleak, It helped me remove myself, and while I was painting I would think things through and work it out.
I really enjoyed this. It wasn’t an easy read by any means but it was a glimpse into a terrible situation and how one girl worked her way through it. Now that I’ve read this I will be DEFINITELY be picking up the novel at some point! I loved the graphic novel format but I really want a chance to get more dialogue and monologue. The art was wonderful and did a great job at also conveying the emotions of Melinda and her situation. I’m so thankful for authors who are willing to put their own difficult experiences like this. I’m grateful that they’re able to share their pain and give others who may/may not have experienced this situation the chance to understand the emotions behind something like this. So thank you.
Before I end this review, I wanted to share a few links that were given by the author. If you yourself, or anyone you know, has experienced rape or sexual abuse, do what Melinda did and speak up. You are not alone.
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – https://www.rainn.org
- National Sexual Violence Resource Centre – https://www.nsvrc.org
- SurvJustice – http://www.survjustice.org
- End Rape On Campus – http://endrapeoncampus.org
Until next time, happy reading!