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Review: Speak

Recently, I was talking to one of my students, and she told me that she preferred to read novels, because she liked to make her own images in her head. I get it. I happen to love both novels and graphic novels, and I’m also an avid fan of audiobooks… but I totally get her perspective. Once I’ve read a novel in prose form, I’ve never been a fan of watching the movie or reading the graphic novels that’s been adapted from it. So I was hesitant to read Speak, which has been on my favorite list for many years.

Speak: The Graphic Novel
By Laurie Halse Anderson. Emily Carroll
Farrar Straus Giroux. 2018. ISBN 9780374300289
HC, $19.99. 374pp.
Grades 7 and Up

speakI was pleasantly surprised. Listen, go read the original novel first. The novel is better and really, my experience reading the graphic novel was much like watching a movie that’s adapted from a book. As I watched… um read… I realized after a while this stood on its own… as its own creative work. Ultimately, it will bring its story, and yes, its message, to a whole new group of readers.

The summer before 9th grade, Melinda goes to a party with her best friend. At the party, she calls the police. When they ask what’s the emergency, Melinda can’t speak. The police come anyway. They break up the party. Teens are arrested. Everyone blames Melinda. But no one knows the truth about what happened to her, because Melinda cannot find her voice.

The story opens with the start of 9th grade, and Melinda is a pariah. The only person who will talk to her is a new girl who doesn’t know her story. Melinda’s parents have a shaky relationship, and their relationship with her isn’t all that much better. Her life is splintering apart, and Melinda talks less and less. Will she have the courage to find her voice and speak up? Will she heal?

The very important theme of Melinda losing her voice got a bit lost in the translation. It’s mentioned. You see it. But somehow, the feeling of Melinda’s voice not being present isn’t conveyed all that strongly. I guess it just didn’t translate as well to the visual form.

But a better artist than Emily Carroll could not have been chosen for this project. Her background in creepy drawings works so well here, as she portrays Melinda’s inner turmoil—like how she feels like her skin has burned off. Sometimes, the creepiness is meant as humor, like the teacher flu. (Okay, so that one resonates!) The black and white color scheme sets the depressed tone of the book.

Ultimately, Speak: The Graphic Novel will be introducing a new generation of readers to the story. I hope they get strength from it. I hope they enjoy it. And I hope they go read the novel.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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