Thursday, February 3, 2011

I am getting better at smiling when people expect it

After the Twilights and other paranormal romance, I had written off YA literature. I know it's wrong to ignore an entire section of the bookstore based on a few bad apples but I did. I figured it didn't matter. If I hadn't received this copy of Speak for free, I never would have given it a second glance. And that would have been a shame because then I would have missed out.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a difficult and yet simple (not easy) novel. Anderson says "Speak is not just a book about rape. Speak is a book about depression" (204). Obviously a book dealing with rape and depression is not going to be a necessarily pleasant read.  Add to the fact that the main character, Melinda, is only 13 when raped and the topic gets that much harder. Anderson has a definite writing style that works well for the genre and the topic. It would have been easy for the book to focus on the violence but she doesn't. The book focuses on Melinda's school year and how she wrestles with her emotions and her guilt and her pain. Not only is Speak not just a book about rape, I'd say it's primarily about depression. It's just set off by that singular moment.

The book is told from Melinda's point of view. The sentences are short and to the point, without any flowery descriptions. It feels like this could have come straight from the mind of a teenager and indeed Anderson mentions researching teen speak by hanging out a Taco Bell and mall food courts (204).

Ben over at Dead End Follies says the book got under his skin and I have to agree. I started it without any real expectation that I would really like it. I didn't assume I'd hate it, I just assumed I wouldn't remember it. Then I was reading it and I couldn't put it down. And more than that I started getting angry at Melinda (more on that in a second). If I don't care about what I'm reading or what I'm watching, it stands to reason that I don't care what happens to the characters. But when I noticed myself feeling something other than apathy, I knew the book was getting to me.

*This part will have some spoilers in it. Although I already told you Melinda gets raped so really, that's the only surprise. And I ruined that for you already. Sorry about that.*
Yes, I was angry at Melinda. I was angry at her for a lot of the beginning of the book. Am I that much of an asshole that I'm actually angry at a young girl who is a rape victim? Apparently, but please hear me out before you hunt me down with pitchforks. I was mad at her because she was acting like a victim. Now, I don't actually think Melinda did anything wrong or anything unusual or anything different than I would have done if I had gone through what she did. But I was angry that it happened at all and I, as the reader, didn't have the details as to exactly what happened. So my anger got filtered over to her. Which is unfair. And wrong. And please understand I would never blame a rape victim for their attack. I don't blame Melinda for her attack and she's not even real. But as a fictional character and one I could argue with, I just wanted to shake her and yell at her to quit being a victim. And maybe stab the guy in the face. I get stabby when rape is involved.

So yeah, when I started yelling at the character (in my head. I'm not that crazy) I knew the book was getting to me.

One complaint I do have is that the ending came too quickly. I felt like we spent so long in the beginning watching Melinda be sad and then the ending was rushed. She finally starts to turn and confront what has happened and begins to open up, beings to speak, then BAM the book is over. I would have liked to see her strength grow more before all of a sudden we're done. Although I don't have any interest in a possible sequel Anderson is considering writing. I think the story has been told and while I like Melinda I think any follow up to her will cheapen the original story.
*Phew spoilers over. And hopefully those of you that read it do not want to attack me. Or even if you do still want to, please don't.*

Reading and enjoying Speak does not suddenly mean that I'm going to start reading a bunch of YA. It just means that if someone whose opinion I trust recommends a YA book I won't so quickly turn my nose up at it. And if you get the chance you should check it out. It's a very quick read so if you have a few hours you can finish it.

Title quote from page 32

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. Penguin Group, New York. 1999