*This review will contain spoilers!*
'It's easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.'
'It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.'Everyone can sympathise with the stress of starting a new school, uncomfortable in your uniform and weighed down with all of the unopened books in your bag. Starting with the sentence is simple yet effective: it gets everyone automatically on Melinda's side.
Everyone hates Melinda Sordino, because she called the police to a huge party at the start of summer. Her ex-best friend Rachel is embarrassed, because it was her brother that got them all invited to the party (even though they were only 13 at the time). People were arrested, futures were ruined.
Melinda can't tell anyone the reason she phoned the police, because she knows no one will listen to her. They're all too busy blindly hating her, not taking the time to question why she would do something like that.
Melinda stops talking, refusing to communicate with her parents or contribute in class. Her grades take a nosedive, making things even harder at home, and she alienates her new friend Heather with her disinterested attitude.
That's all before she bumps into The Beast, IT, him: Andy Evans.
Melinda was excited when Andy started talking to her at the party - she was excited about the possibility of having a boyfriend at high school, and she couldn't wait to tell Rachel - but when he started taking things further she tried to stop him. Even though she'd been drinking, even though she was scared, she told him no. He raped her, and she's being punished for it.
I didn't feel connected to Melinda at all. I'm not sure why - it might have been the length of the book, which was only just over 200 pages - but while I was sad that she went through something so horrific I didn't feel emotionally invested. I thought it was going to be a much harder read, but instead it's left me with something to think about, but it hasn't had the deep impact I'd presumed it would.
I was surprised by the fact that it's still extremely relevant. Released in 1999, you'd hope that attitudes towards victims of sexual assault and rape would have changed in the last seventeen years, but victim shaming and doubt are still both very pervasive (demonstrated perfectly in the news in the last couple of weeks). There's also a very aggravating comment from a teacher, claiming that America "should close our borders so that real Americans can get the jobs they deserve", which is a racist attitude that definitely should have disappeared after such a long period.
If 'Speak' was written now, it would definitely have more of a focus on social media, but other than this nothing is missing. If I hadn't known it was written so long ago, I would have assumed it had been released within the last five years, especially because it's become such a frequently debated topic.
The ending is convenient: Andy tries to attack Melinda again, and the girls on the sports team come to the rescue. Rachel realises Melinda wasn't lying about the rape, and she tries to fix their relationship. Melinda begins to heal as she breaks her silence.
In reality, it's not usually as easy as this. The attacker has an excuse, the victim struggles to speak out against him, and it's an endless spiral of he said, she said. There's also a lot more resistance to believing victim's claims, which is why the conviction rate of accused rapists is horrendously low.
But I was glad it was a happy ending. I know they don't always end that way, but because of the fact that Melinda was only 13, I was rooting for it to come to light and for her to get justice.
This is not the best Laurie Halse Anderson book I've read, but it feels like a modern classic. It's almost 20 years old and still as relevant as it was the day that it was written, and I can imagine it's going to help many teenagers and young adults in the future.
It has convinced me to purchase Laurie's other novels, because I want to read more of her writing. 'Wintergirls' is one of my favourite books of all time, and while I didn't enjoy 'Speak' as much I still appreciated Laurie tackling a subject that's often avoided.
If you enjoyed 'Asking For It' by Louise O'Neill, you'll definitely enjoy 'Speak'. It's a lot less descriptive of the attack, toned down and more appropriate for a younger audience, but the subject of rape and consent is still handled in a sensitive and thought-provoking manner.