CW: Discussions of Sexual Assault and Self Harm
Somehow, I’d lived my life up until now not having read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I knew of its basic premise and that it was so incredibly important for the genre and potentially for my Honors project, but I only just read it this past weekend.
I just want to preface my commentary on this novel with my emphasis of how important this novel is. For so many reasons, this changed the way that people read and see the world around them. It has given young people a way to express their trauma and did this all the way back in 1999. For so many, this book has been so important, and I do not want to minimize its importance in any way. I simply want to talk about my experience reading it.
But this is a book that I wish I had read when I was younger. This is not to cut down the power of this book in any way. Simply, at this point in my YA career, I have read narratives similar to this one—and they are notably written after Speak and have probably been influenced by Speak in some way. Speak still had an impact on me, but I think that impact would have been greater were I reading it as a teenager or before I had read some of the other books I’ve read recently.
There were times where I craved more complexity in the narrative being told, particularly near the end. Specifically, the ending felt simplistic in a way that a lot of the text didn’t. The issue of Miranda’s attackers seemed more or less solved within the last 30 pages, and I thought much of the narrative complexity feel short in that moment. I also felt like I had read portions of this narrative before, and that may just be that many YA novels emerged after this one. This is not to undercut the power of the narrative voice of this piece or the work that it is trying to do.
However, I wonder how different were I a younger reader. Because so much of Miranda’s story is about working toward this voicing of trauma, and I wonder if much of the simplicity I earlier critiqued is tied up in that. In many ways, Melinda has to build herself up and build her language back up and figure out the way to express the trauma that she has experienced.
I appreciated that this trauma wasn’t linear, and I appreciate the work that this book is doing so much. Though I think there could have been moments in the end that were possibly tweaked, I just wanted to share one of the most beautiful moments of the text. While Miranda is desperately trying to find a new pair of jeans, she tilts the mirror in the changing room and watches her image fracture and the multiple eyes stare out at her and the lips that she has bitten raw from worry. This moment of utter fragmentation was especially haunting for me, and I think this would have still been a scene that stood out to me even if I was a younger reader.
I cannot emphasize enough how important this book is—both as a reader and as a writer. The little critiques I have with it are nothing in comparison with how this book has touched the lives of others and made waves in the ways in which people write and think about trauma. It is a beautiful, empowering story of a young, artistic woman finding her voice and I just wish that I had read this book when I was a little younger.
However, it’s important to continue reading these books—no matter what your age—and support women finding their voice and telling their stories, especially when they have given you the chance to listen as Miranda did in this narrative.