Speak by Laurie Halse AndersonSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Puffin
Number of pages: 198
My copy: Paperback, Platinum edition, bought from Fully Booked

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.

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It’s kind of timely that I’m reviewing this book during Banned Books Week, and I just realized it until now. I don’t really think Banned Books Week bears much bearing where I live since schools do not carry much of the books that are challenged, and anything that is supposed to be “required reading” are from local authors. It’s another topic to discuss really, which was covered a bit in the last Filipino Book Bloggers meet up. I was also pretty lucky enough that my parents allowed me to read anything I want. Sure, my mom made sure what I used to read when I was young was age-appropriate, but as I grew older, she let me pick what I want to read.

I don’t believe in censoring books, though. If it isn’t fit for public consumption, then it shouldn’t have been published in the first place, right? I believe in making sure the books children read are appropriate to their age, but not pulling the books out so no one will read it. I hate it even more when the people wanting to ban the books are those people who haven’t even taken the time to read them. :|

But I won’t be writing about the issue in this review anymore because I think I’ve written enough about it in another post, so I’ll take this time to focus on the book.

Melinda was looking forward to high school that summer, but all changed when she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. She starts the first day of school as an official outcast, where even her best friend would not look at her. But there was more to the busting that made Melinda’s situation different — something happened during that party that made Melinda shut up and curl into herself.

If you know me in person, you would know that I am very talkative. As in VERY. I used to think I was a shy person, but who am I kidding? I’m not. I may not be the friendliest person around, but I have a thousand stories I could probably share if needed to entertain or to just keep the conversation going. I can’t not speak, really. I can, but only for certain moods, or when it is absolutely required not to be silent. Otherwise, you’d always hear me first before actually seeing me.

Speak was a hard novel for me to read because I wanted Melinda to speak up about her situation. I even wanted to speak up in her place because she was suffering even if she doesn’t want to admit it. I do understand, however that her silence was her defense mechanism, like talking is mine. It was just kind of hard to watch her suffer through so many things when it could have been over soon if she just spoke up. I try to imagine myself in her situation, but as I was doing so, I stopped. I can’t, I don’t want to, because it’s not a situation any girl would want to be in. No one deserves to experience what Melinda felt, but unfortunately, it happens. :(

Laurie Halse Anderson’s first novel is a good one, but not easy to digest. These are what I call “issue” books. Compared to other contemporary YA, issue books deal with deeper issues, issues that the characters don’t have control with, like abuse or rape. Speak is written in almost like a stream-of-consciousness prose, where we have access to Melinda’s thoughts as she thinks of them. Even so, these thoughts were still filtered, as she filters them to herself as well. She refuses to think what happened on the night of the party, at least until she finally finds the courage to face it. I find the author’s depiction accurate, as far as my imagination can see. Some people may think that Melinda is too angsty and sarcastic, but I think it was just a way of defending herself, of fortifying the walls she built around her. For those like me who are blessed to not share the same experience of Melinda, it might be hard to sympathize with her at first, but as her story is revealed, it gets easier to feel for her. You may not love her, but you will want her to win in the end.

This is why books like Speak is important, because it gives the Melindas of the world a reason to…well, speak loudly. To let their voices be heard, to help other girls and to stop what happened from happening to anyone else again. There is strength in community, in having someone share the burden. Speak is empowering, and I think the number of positive reviews and the humongous reaction to Speak Loudly is enough proof of that.

Speak is a powerful book. The tree symbolism may be a bit cliche, but it’s just a minor thing. This book is sad, heartbreaking, sometimes horrifying, but still offers hope and beauty despite all the brokenness. It’s not my favorite book, but it’s one of the books I glad I read. :)

Rating: [rating=4]

BTT: Current

Booking Through Thursday

I finally caught Booking Through Thursday on time! I have been meaning to do a BTT post for a while but I always forget, and I’ve always been busy just before the week ends. I thought this week’s BTT is simple, but it also helps me to talk about something that the book bloggers have been abuzz with since this weekend. This week’s question is:

What are you reading right now? What made you choose it? Are you enjoying it? Would you recommend it? (And, by all means, discuss everything, if you’re reading more than one thing!)

Speak by Laurie Halse AndersonRight now I am reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I have been planning to get a copy of the book for the longest time but it wasn’t really a priority book for me, you know, the book I absolutely must have and read now. I figure it’s a book that I will eventually get to read, but not anytime soon, you know?

But last weekend kind of bumped this book way way up in my TBR. Long story made short: Wesley Scroggins, associate professor of management at Missouri State University and Christian, wrote a piece about how Speak is a filthy and immoral book, equating it to soft porn for the two rape scenes in the book. He moved to ban Speak and two other books, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut out of the school’s reading list because of that reason, and of course, everyone was outraged. Who wouldn’t be?

Now I haven’t read Slaughterhouse Five, but I’ve read Twenty Boy Summer and while I it wasn’t a favorite book of mine, I didn’t think it was bad enough to be banned. People who know me in person know that I am a Christian and I stand by my beliefs firmly, but I don’t avoid every single book that has sex in it. I may not like it, but it doesn’t mean that no one else should read it because it (and I quote Mr. Scroggins): “…glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong. In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex.

Seriously now.

Anyway, so I’m reading Speak right now, and I’m only about halfway done, and my heart is going out to Melinda. This is a girl who has serious issues of depression and trauma, someone who badly needs help, who needs a friend, who needs someone to listen to. I already know what will happen in the story, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of how Melinda is dealing with her situation.

Melinda’s story is heartbreaking. It’s not easy, and this is just fiction. Melinda isn’t a real person, and my heart is already going out to her. What more for girls who actually had the same experience as Melinda? What more for girls who are ostracized by their friends because they do not know the truth and the girl is too scared to talk about what happened? Because let’s face it: date rape happens. It can happen to anyone. In a perfect world, the victim would have a supportive family, understanding friends and she be able to speak up, move on and be a survivor instead of a victim of that crime. It is possible. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in this broken world, one that is filled with sin and brokenness and not everyone has a good support system to help them get over the trauma.

This is why books like Speak exist. To talk about issues that we are afraid to talk about. To help victims find hope, to give them a friend, albeit fictional. You know what they say about books being friends? Well, Mr. Scroggins, it’s true, and sometimes books can be the only friends that some of the rape victims have.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as banned books in the Philippines, since I’m not familiar with our library systems and all, but I hope it doesn’t reach that point here. While I agree that some books may need to be reviewed and discretion should be advised for some books depending on the reader’s age, book banning is an entirely different story. Most especially if you haven’t even read the book yet. That just reeks of ignorance.

I don’t see anything un-Christian about Speak. And I definitely think that banning this would just do more harm than good. Consider this post my choice to Speak Loudly.

Here’s an update from Laurie Halse Anderson about the situation, as well a compiled list of all articles written about Speak Loudly by the Reclusive Bibliophile.