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Top Teen Titles #3

#3 Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Puffin, 1999. ISBN:  9780141310886, 208 pp.

Publisher’s Description: Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country

Quotes from Readers:

Laurie Halse Anderson gets better with each book she writes. Speak was groundbreaking.

A very important read, especially for teen girls.

Perfectly captures a teen girl’s struggle to tell the world about her terrible secret.

Many English departments are adding this novel to their summer reading lists, and I am so happy about that! This is a wonderful book about finding one’s voice and being able to stand against wrong even when it’s not the popular thing to do.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, TeenReads, TeensReadToo.

Awards: National Book Award Nominee for Young People’s Literature (1999), Golden Kite Award for Fiction (1999), Horn Book Fanfare Best Book (2000), BCCB Blue Ribbon Book (1999), Edgar Award Nominee for Best Young Adult (2000) Edgar Award Nominee for Best Young Adult (2000), Printz Honor (2000), South Carolina Book Award for Young Adult Book Award (2002), ALA’s Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2000)

Diane’s note: Young adult literature has been accused of overly focusing on “issues”. Yet, the students who relate to this book view Speak as far more than a book about an issue. Speak is like a guide for overcoming the depression that occurs 3 times more often in teens who have been sexually abused. When you consider the statistics that “1 in 6 American women will be the victims of a completed or attempted rape in her lifetime” (National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998.) and that 44% of these are under 18, hopefully you will realize that we share a responsibility to provide voices for these victims.

I’ve heard students talk about how Speak helped them share episodes from their life. I’ve seen very disimilar teens notice each other reading Speak and opening up – it’s as if Speak gives them an option to share. Sometimes the conversations start with discussing how teens act towards each other in high school, then there is a moment of silence until someone starts talking about a personal connection and an incident of abuse in their life.

When I visited my local public libraries and asked at the front desk if they had a copy of Speak in, some of the library clerks grew uncomfortable. Surprisingly, not every branch near me had a copy. When I mentioned to one of the librarians how important this title is to be included in a collection, she hesitantly confided that a parent had complained so when their copy wore out, they didn’t replace it. Ah! Isn’t this a form of censorship when you refuse to purchase or replace a copy ONLY because you are afraid it might be challenged? Would it surprise you to know that I am donating a copy to that branch?

If the people who ban books could only see the hurt in many teens eyes and voices as they react to Speak; if the people who want to ban Speak could see the sheer number of teens who have been abused and are seeking a way to communicate, would they still restrict access? How do they justify ignoring the pain of an abused teen? Laurie Halse Anderson addresses these challenges on her website:

I am shocked whenever anyone challenges SPEAK. This is a story about the emotional trauma suffered by a teen after a sexual assault. Throughout the entire book, she struggles with her pain, and tries to find the courage to speak up about what happened so she can get some help. Isn’t that what we want our kids to do – reach out to us?

Read how Laurie Halse Anderson discusses the impact of Speak:

Do you think that SPEAK has made a difference?  Absolutely. But it wasn’t the book. The readers of SPEAK changed our world. Many of them came away from the book with a new understanding of sexual assault and depression. They dug deep and found the courage to speak up about their own pain. They reached out and asked for help. They spoke up. The teachers and administrators who were smart and bold enough to put a contemporary piece of literature into the classroom are changing the world, too. They put the book where it could open minds and hearts.


  1. Denise Dorn says:

    I am sorry to ask, but did I miss #1 & 2? I’ve been checking every week, but haven’t seen them. 3 & 4 were in October, so I think I must have missed them.


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