Speak is a New York Times Best-Seller. The novel received several awards and honors, including the 2000 Golden Kite Award and the 2000 ALA Best Books For Young Adults. Speak gained critical acclaim for its portrayal of the trauma caused by rape. Barbara Tannert-Smith, author of "Like Falling Up Into a Storybook: Trauma and Intertextual Repetition in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak.", claims the story's ability to speak the reader's language brought about its commercial success. Publishers Weekly says, Speak's "overall gritty realism and Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired". Ned Vizzini, for the New York Times, calls it "different", "a grittily realistic portrait of sexual violence in high school." Author Don Latham calls Speak "painful, smart, and darkly comic".
Speak has won several awards and honors, including:
- 1999 National Book Award Finalist
- 1999 BCCB Blue Ribbon Book
- 2000 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Fiction
- 2000 Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year
- 2000 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
- 2000 Printz Honor Book
- 2000 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
- 2000 Fiction Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
- 2000 Edgar Allan Poe Best Young Adult Award Finalist
- 2001 New York Times Paperback Children's Best Seller
- 2005 New York Times Paperback Children's Best Seller
Speak's difficult subject matter has led to censorship of the novel. Speak is ranked 60th on the ALA's list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009. In September 2010, Wesley Scroggins, a professor at Missouri State University, wrote an article, "Filthy books demeaning to Republic education", in which he claimed that Speak, along with Slaughterhouse Five and Twenty Boy Summer, should be banned for "exposing children to immorality". Scroggins claimed that Speak should be "classified as soft pornography" and, therefore, removed from high school English curriculum. In its 2010-2011 bibliography, "Books Challenged or Banned", the Newsletter of Intellectual Freedom lists Speak as having been challenged in Missouri schools because of its "soft-pornography" and "glorification of drinking, cursing, and premarital sex."
In the 2006 Platinum Edition of Speak, and on her blog, Laurie Halse Anderson spoke out against censorship. Anderson wrote:
But censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.
In her scholarly monograph, Laurie Halse Anderson: Speaking in Tongues, Wendy J. Glenn claims that Speak "has generated more academic response than any other novel Anderson has written." Despite hesitancy to teach a novel with "mature subject matter," English teachers are implementing Speak in the classroom as a study of literary analysis, as well as tool to teach students about sexual harassment. The novel gives students the opportunity to talk about several teen issues, including: school cliques, sex, and parental relationships. Of teaching Speak in the classroom Jackett says, "We have the opportunity as English teachers to have an enormously positive impact on students' lives. Having the courage to discuss the issues found in Speak is one way to do just that." By sharing in Melinda's struggles, students may find their own voices and learn to cope with trauma and hardships. According to Janet Alsup, teaching Speak in the classroom, can help students become more critically literate. Students may not feel comfortable talking about their own experiences, but they are willing to talk about what happens to Melinda. Elaine O'Quinn claims that books like Speak allow students to explore inner dialogue. Speak provides an outlet for students to think critically about their world.