Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Forays in Fiction: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: A Review for Banned Books Week


by Laurie Halse Anderson
“Poetry fettered, fetters the human race. Nations are destroyed or flourish in proportion as their poetry, painting, and music are destroyed or flourish.” -- William Blake 

What more ironic book to be censored than one whose central theme is the self-censoring of one's own voice and the delirious consequences engendered.

Melinda Sordino calls the cops from a student end-of-summer party just weeks before she enters high school and thus becomes a pariah, hated by all from those who had been her best friends to those she doesn't even know.  Only a lonely new student unaware of her outcast status is the only one to befriend her.

Melinda, meanwhile has repressed her memories of the incident that motivated her to phone the police that day.  It had something to do with an encounter with a senior boy though and every encounter with this same boy in the halls, in class, at pep rallies or in the lunch room sends her mind into a tizzy. She can't even speak his name in her mind:

I see IT in the hallway. IT goes to Merryweather.  IT is walking with Aubrey Cheerleader.  IT is my nightmare and I can't wake up.  IT sees me. IT smiles and winks.  Good thing my lips are stitched together or I'd throw up.
She finds it more and more difficult to speak aloud for any reason to anyone even to teachers and parents when asked a direct question.  Her grades drop.  She sleeps a lot.  She skips class sometimes holing up in an abandoned janitor's closet she had stumbled into.

One class only is the exception to her near failing marks and that is art and the art teacher is the only one able to even almost connect with her.  His assignment for the year involves taking a theme drawn at random from a bowl he passed out the first day and using it in as many different art pieces utilizing as many different art techniques as possible.  Melinda's theme was 'tree' and she spends hours upon hours drawing, painting, sculpting, etching trees. This exercise has given her a way to express herself that makes an end run around the difficulties she has speaking aloud and at times even thinking certain things.  This may have a certain amount to do with how easily nonverbal communication like drawing, sculpting etc can access more directly the unconscious than can verbal but the fact that the incident at the party that late summer night took place in the trees at the edge of the property plays no small role.

The novel  is narrated in first person by Melinda in short paragraph whose style mimics personal journal entries which makes it intense and immediate.

One of the incredible ironies surrounding the history of this book's challenges is that one of the school districts where it was challenged by one set of parents has a lawsuit filed against them by another parent for having mishandled a case of rape and sexual harassment against their special needs daughter that had gone on for more than a year.  You can find the links to this story in my Friday Forays post in August in which I discuss it in the context of Laurie Halse Anderson's suggestion that we fiction writers should befriend and thus harness our anger.

In that post I also discuss why censoring stories like Speak is so counterproductive and why censorship is so anathema to me:

There are many more subtle ways of taking the voice from those whose words disturb the societal norm than a hand over the mouth or the cutting out of the tongue or burning of books. One is the deliberate and systematic sabotage of an education that gives one the vocabulary, the concepts, the historical frame of reference to be able to think about and thus talk about injustice and other wrong perpetrated by the strong against the weak, the rich against the poor, the insider against the outsider, the majority against the minorities.
Which is exactly why books like Speak get banned. And sex education, evolution, ethnic studies among other subjects are removed from curriculum and students are tested only on memorizable facts not the ability to think about them and talk radio hosts talk about open season on liberals defined as anyone who disagrees with them out loud and governments act in secret to keep us uninformed and corporations spend billions on a politician's campaign prevent regular people from competing for their loyalty and votes are suppressed and unions are broken and activists are assassinated and 'free speech zones' are created for protesters in locations they are least likely to be noticed by their intended audience and terrorists bomb civilians and the people are told a war is about bringing civil rights to oppressed people when its really about profit and in the name of that war civil rights are taken from the very people sending their sons and daughters to fight and corporations sue those who dare to question the quality of their product and oil companies discourage pictures of distressed dolphins and duck in the midst of an oil spill and children are punished for crying or speaking uncomfortable truths to adults and mothers shame daughters for being unladylike when they raise their voice and preachers excoriate parishioners for asking uncomfortable questions and religions and other social constructs prize obedience over all other virtues including integrity.


 All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values… and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States — and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!"  Kurt Vonnegut

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”—Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)

Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.

Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel

1 tell me a story:

Brasil 4/16/2012 12:17 AM  

Speak is a realistic fiction book. If this book were a movie, it would be rated R because of what happens to Melinda. I would give it a four out of five stars because this book was confusing at some points. Melinda is a freshman at her high school and all of her ex-friends hate her guts. Over the summer, a party took place and Melinda called the cops. No one knows why, but they hate her anyways. Melinda has one new friend named Heather, but sometimes a good friend can't help her situation. Melinda's grades are falling and she has no where to go except her closet.
Drama, suspense and honesty are the three best things in this book. Drama is one because Melinda's ex-friends start rumors behind Melinda's back. Suspense happens because you never know what's going to happen next. Lastly honesty is an important aspect of this book. The novel shows that a little truth can help Melinda's tough situation.

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