Monday, September 20, 2010

Speak. Speak Loudly. It's Subversive.

Book 49: Speak
Laurie Halse Anderson

Wesley Scroggins is wrong.  I am so glad that I start this post by saying that. Mr. Scroggins should be as well, as it is certainly the kindest thing that I think about him.

I didn't intend to read this book. But then, a post came across my Twitter feed yesterday.  This Wesley Scroggins was trying to get Speak, along with several other books, banned from a school district in Missouri. (Side note, I've since learned he's also trying to get text books with references to evolution banned, as well as anything that disagrees with his personal interpretation of the Constitution. See$FILE/School%20Board%20Presentation%20%28Scroggins%29.pdf)

In a recent letter to the editor, Scroggins took his opinions to the newspaper reading public (, alluding to  several works, including Speak, as soft porn.  Now, this captured my interest.  I'm no fan of banning any kind of book and I trusted the opinions of other book bloggers I follow who said this guy was way off the mark.

But I think for myself. And before I decided to run my mouth about Scroggins' gross misstatements about this book, I decided to read it and decide for myself.  I bought Speak after work tonight. I read it in a little over three hours.

Speak is nothing like porn of any type. The sex in Speak, without graphic description, but with emotion, is Rape.  Not sex. Not titillating to anyone but the basest of people.  Mr. Scroggins is utterly and completely wrong.  

Laurie Halse Anderson has written a luminous book.  An odd characterization, luminous, given that so much of the book is centered around the depression of Melinda Sordino after she was raped at a party before the start of her Freshman year of high school.

Anderson hits the nuances of cliques perfectly. How fitting in seems to be so effortless to some and so unachievable to others.  The struggles of living in a less than perfect family.  A family you want to talk to and confide in but you're scared to reach out to.  Boring teachers talking about things you think can't possibly matter in real life.  Figuring out who your friends are.  Literally losing your voice because you're afraid that if you speak, all your dark secrets will come spilling out for the world to see.

In Speak, Anderson creates real characters, relatable even if you don't share their exact experiences. You still know all these people from your own high school days.  The book isn't preachy, it isn't condescending.  It doesn't talk down to the readers or marginalize their experiences.  It doesn't glorify that underbelly of high school where teenagers are really trying out, for the first time, what they think adulthood is about.

I thought Speak was brilliantly done, and I wish more books like this had been around when I was in high school.

As a side note, Banned Books week starts 25 September. As part of that, I'll be re-reading one of my favorite books from high school summer reading.  Summer of my German Soldier for reasons unfathomable to me is on the list of most challenged/banned books from 2000-2009.  I'll be posting on its literary merits, as well as a separate post about my feelings on banning books in general. In that post, I'll also share more of what I find so distressing about Wesley Scroggins' crusade against Speak.


  1. I'm happy so many banned books are making the rounds this month. I look forward to your thoughts on banned books in general.

  2. Brenna,

    Thanks again for the comment. Now sure why my original reply to you didn't post, but I did just upload my post on Banned Books Week. Are you planning to read a banned book this week? I just finished Summer of my German Soldier, and I have a lot to say about that!