When a controversy over this novel erupted shortly before Banned Books Week 2010, it had the opposite of its intended effect, as these things often do; rather than warn me away from the book, it piqued my interest (and seriously ticked me off). I'd already heard a lot of good things about Laurie Halse Anderson as an author, but hadn't sampled her writing yet - I felt like I had an incentive now. I'm a bit regretful that this is what it took to get me to read this powerfully affecting novel, but I'm glad that I've done it nonetheless.
Anderson has given her protagonist, Melinda, an authentic and compelling adolescent voice, particularly considering that she's a girl who rarely talks. She's not prepared to explain her actions or defend herself against the judgment of Merryweather High School - including the girls who had been her best friends up until the end of that summer - and no one wants to talk to her anyway (except for that desperate-to-fit-in new girl, Heather), so why bother? But Melinda has a lot to say all the same as she views her peers from the outside...and struggles with what's going on on the inside.
A Q&A with the author at the end of the edition I read discusses Speak as a novel that's primarily about depression, and as someone who has been challenged by that condition myself, it's not hard to recognize that. One layperson's definition of depression is "anger turned inward," and that seems to fit Melinda. She is justifiably angry over things that have happened to her and around her, but doesn't see a way to express that anger safely...and so, she tries to shut it down and pull away. But eventually everyone reaches a point where they can't live that way anymore; however, they don't all react the same way once they get there. I was anxious to see how Melinda would find her way and where she'd end up; I wanted to see her find and use her voice.
I can't talk about Speak without addressing the plot point that raised all furor over it, and which I assume by now is not a spoiler: yes, Melinda is a teenage girl who is raped by someone she knows, and that act is the catalyst of the story. There is nothing at all sexy about this; it's told in very spare prose that conveys shock and fear more than anything else. It is emphatically not pornographic. However, if the mischaracterization of and uproar over the novel served to introduce it to more readers, it's not all bad. Speak is an eloquent and emotionally true nove. It truly does "speak" - it has important things to say, and says them well.