Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The summer before she starts high school, Melinda goes to a party where she calls the police. Because of her action, she is ostracized when school starts. Without a single friend, she pairs up with a new girl who desperately wants to be popular, but who is entirely self-serving. Why Melinda called the police isn’t revealed until late in the book. However, something is clearly wrong with Melinda.
The book is broken down into the four grading periods of the school year. As Melinda’s grades plummet–she cuts class and skips a lot of her homework–she speaks less and less often as well. The only place she is connecting at school is in art class, where her eccentric teacher, Mr. Freeman, seems to understand that she needs a way to express her grief and fear.
This is an exceptionally good book—I haven’t met one student who read it and didn’t love it. Though the subject matter is intense and often depressing, Melinda’s sarcastic wit adds a lighter note. Throughout the novel, she jabs at the traditions and cliques of high school. The school’s mascot is changed four times as people argue over what is socially acceptable. The results are hilarious. (You know the students are in trouble when their cheer becomes ‘We are the hornets, the horny, horny hornets!’ and shake their booties to show off their stingers.) Melinda also has a critical eye for the cliques—the Goths, the jocks, even the ‘Marthas’—girls who want to be perfect like Martha Stewart—are all skewered.
Through a truly likable character, this novel reminds us that we have to speak up for ourselves. I highly recommend it!