Speak - By Laurie Halse Anderson

In an ongoing pursuit of learning and knowledge and having something in common with my children, I often read books from the Young Adult section. "Speak" is a required reading assignment for Aaron to complete prior to the start of 9th grade English. After requesting a copy from the library, I found the audio book so checked it out. He listened to it and when the actual book became available a few days later, I snuck off to read it before handing it over to him.

This is a short book - less than 200 pages - written from the viewpoint of a 9th grade female who begins the year unliked by her peers. Although the writer does not clue you in immediately as to why she is an outcast, clues are given and the reader can figure out the unwritten details. The majority of the book leads the reader to believe that the main character has quit speaking other than inside her head. She doesn't participate in classes and is perpetually late or absent altogether. By the end of the book and the end of the school year, she is able to find her voice and report her tragedy, but it takes a very long road and it really isn't that well traveled.

I personally had a hard time buying into the story. It's a sad, tragic tale, but not in just the obvious way. I am working on the assumption that she was fairly popular in middle school and had a normal circle of friends, including one BFF. The turning point is an end-of-summer party at which she ostracizes herself by committing a horrendous social faux pas. She calls the cops to the party and now everybody hates her. Her reason for calling the cops is what causes her to cease speaking.

Here's my problem: If I had a daughter who was socially active and engaged in normal teenage activities who overnight closeted herself in her room and quit talking, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't let things go for a whole school year without questioning this major change. I would be calling her BFFs parents, talking to counselors, consulting family and friends, and dragging in home drug-testing kits. Yes, this girl's parents are having marriage issues (who doesn't) and they both work outside the home (been there, done that). But she's an only child. I have 7 and I can still guarantee that I would notice if one of them communicated with me only through written notes.

I can't wait to talk to this teacher to determine why this particular book was picked. It probably has something to do with symbolism and foreshadowing - it certainly can't be for intellectual stimulation.


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