Speak Study Guide

Speak is Laurie Halse Anderson's first young adult novel. It was published in 1999 by Penguin Group and re-released in 2006 as a "platinum edition" containing an interview with the author. The novel tells the story of Melinda Sordino, a Syracuse ninth grader who must overcome her depression and silence after being raped at a summer party. The novel is written in the first person, and features a diary-like format with loosely connected, short chapters. The novel has won several awards, was a New York Times best seller, and has been translated into sixteen different languages. In 2004, a film adaption was released starring Kristen Stewart as Melinda.

Anderson said that the character of Melinda came to her in a nightmare. "I woke up one night--panicked--because I could hear a girl sobbing," she said in an interview. When she realized that the crying was coming not from one of her sleeping daughters, but from her own mind, Anderson sat down to write a story. Melinda's secret did not become clear to Anderson until she had already begun work on the novel. Anderson originally considered making Melinda completely mute, but said "...in this day and age that would have led to medical and psychological interventions. I decided it was better to have her just withdraw and speak as little as possible." Anderson wanted to draw attention to teenagers like Melinda, young people whose depression goes unnoticed because they have not performed a dramatic gesture.

Besides its success as a New York Times best seller, Speak was awarded the 2000 Gold Kite Award and the 2000 ALA Best Book for Young Adults. It was also a National Book Award finalist in 1999, a 1999 BCCB Blue Ribbon Book, and a 2000 Printz Honor Book. Speak has also been implemented in middle school, high school, and college curricula across the country.

In spite of its accolades, Speak has been the subject of censorship due to its sexual implications. The book is ranked 60th by ALA in its list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009. The novel was challenged in the state of Missouri as "soft pornography" and as a glorification of "drinking, cursing, and premarital sex." In response to censorship, Anderson wrote, "Most of the censorship I see is fear-driven. I respect that. The world is a very scary place...It is human nature to nurture and protect children as they grow into adulthood. But censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in darkness and makes them vulnerable."