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writer and founder of HOGO WOMEN


by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Speak” is a young adult novel published in 1999. It is a fictional novel set at Merryweather High School in Syracuse, New York (United States of America). Syracuse is also the hometown of the author, Laurie Halse Anderson. Melinda Sordino is the narrator of Speak. She is a young girl struggling with her life. Laurie Halse Anderson first discovered Melinda in a nightmare that she had. She woke up panicked because she thought she heard a girl crying and she got up and decided to write a story. 

School is the primary setting of the story. Melinda Sordino goes to a senior party the summer before the beginning of her freshman year of high school and meets Andy Evans. Andy Evans is a senior at Merryweather High-school where Melinda will go. He is 17 year old, extremely popular, good looking and physically fit. He starts out being very charming and ends up being a monster. He is the opposer and villain in “Speak”. He is important in the novel, however the experience of the victim is more important than the motives of the attacker. Indeed, he seduces Melinda before raping her outside the party in the woods. She was drunk at the time as she had drank three beers. Meanwhile, she was able to say “No”(page 157) when he asked her if she wanted to have sex with him and yet he still got on top of her and hurt her. She calls 911, the U.S. emergency number service after the rape, but cannot will herself to say anything, and runs home. The police traced the call to the location of the party and asked her if she needed help. When they arrived, some people got arrested but for other reasons. She walked home before the police came so they do not know if she or anyone else was raped.

This story is about Melinda's struggles trying to deal with this rape (her rape) while studying. She is in her freshman year in the same high school as her attacker. Using Melinda's story, the author shows us the impact of some common sort of gender-based violence, rape. By illustrating rape through a teenage's victim and by showing how as such a young age we can react to a traumatizing experience she's demonstrating that victims should stand up against it by speaking. Therefore, everything we know about the story is seen from Melinda Sordino's perspective. 

At the start of the book, she is depicted as very bright, happy fourteen years old teenage with friends. She is in a group of four girls called “the Plain Janes” (page 4). As far as the story start evolving which is also the real beginning of the school year, Melinda Sordino's former friends would not talk to her and almost everyone at school is mad at her because she called the cops at the party where she was raped.  She cannot find the words to explain what had happened to her that night. She tries to tell people about that awful thing but she cannot bring herself to because she feels too ashamed. As a result everyone bullies her and she becomes an outcast. She doesn't speak and becomes depressed.

However, she makes a friend, Heather. Heather is from Ohio and is new at the school. She is always excited and happy. Her goal is to join a club for every day of the week and to be part of her new community. She talks to Melinda on the first day of school and they develop a weird friendship. Melinda is just friends with Heather because she has nobody else. She doesn't take this chance to confide in her as they are not that close. However, Heather is also a bad friend as she doesn't ask Melinda why everyone is upset with her and gives her back her friendship necklace on Valentine's day. She even tries to trick Melinda into helping her decorate the room for prom after ditching her for “the Marthas”, the popular girls. Unlike Heather, Mr. Freeman actually helps Melinda. He is Melinda's art teacher. He is the only person who helps Melinda to explore her feelings by asking her questions. He also seems to be the only adult she trusts and confides in. 


We could think that Rachel Bruin, also known as Rachelle who had been Melinda's best friend since primary school could be a person she can trust but she isn’t. She is important to Melinda and she wishes to be able to tell her. "If there is anyone in this entire galaxy I'm dying to tell what happened, it's Rachel" (page 5). But after the incident with the police at the party she begins to hate Melinda. She begins to date Andy. More and more alone, Melinda skips school and stops speaking to her parents and other adults who begin to interpret it as a way to get attention. That is far from the true. 

Her lab partner, David Petrakis encourages her to speak up for herself. He is smart and outspoken. Melinda admires him from the beginning of the book, when she says that he is never bullied, even though he seems like the type who is. She aspires to be strong, well-spoken and independent just like him. But she was unable to because of the weight of her secret. When she finally confesses that she was raped, Melinda liberates herself. She is allowing herself to be in control of her life and become more powerful. By such, she is not a victim anymore but a survivor. When she was silent anyone could tell anything about her. She will let them instead of speaking and reclaiming her identity. People around are also reaching to support her. It is the case with Rachel, who when she hears about the rape, she humiliates Andy at the prom by ditching him after he got inappropriate while dancing. 

After the rape, along with the abandonment of her friends, Melinda started noticing the sexual objectification of women and girls around her, like the glorification of the two-sided, indiscriminately sexually active cheerleaders and Heather's swimsuit modeling.

Indeed, this book can also be seen as a feminist novel because it is about women speaking out and being independent.  Melinda writes a report on the suffragettes and protests in front of her class in a true suffragette manner. Suffragettes were women who fought to have the right to vote. You can also call them militant suffragists. 

The weather is important in this novel like in the poems of Pierre de Ronsard. He was a French poet known as one of the most important poets of the 16th century and called “prince of the poets”. His works are about all the essential topics in life: nature, love, death, philosophy, religion, policy and the war. He was describing his characters emotions and state of mind according to the season. In the winter characters will be sad, old. Young will refers as spring. The beginning of the end or illness as autumn. Like a Ronsard character, Melinda Sordino is very fragile during the winter, but grows during the summer just like a tree. She changes dramatically through the book. In the beginning she is very dark as the rape blocks all the sun and joy in her life. The Melinda after the rape lives in the night. She is lonely. Her emotions are like the winter as the sun is blocked by the sadness. At the end of the book, she is is like reborn. She is able to express her emotions and it is like spring. She is starting to re-open up to people and SPEAK. She is not dying anymore. She is starting to become powerful again.  Indeed, in the beginning of the book she doesn't stop talking altogether but says only the absolutely necessary. Her life has become a nightmare and her rapist is going out with her ex-best friend. She changes mentally and physically in ways that she wouldn't have changed if she been raped. She wouldn't have become such an introvert and isolated is she hadn't been raped. She wouldn't have started biting her lips or scraping her arms with paperclips. These are all temporary changes due to the stress and trauma of the rape. 

She uses TV shows to know whether she was raped or not. She imagines what Oprah, Sally, Jessy Rafael, and Jerry Springler would have told her. We realize that she doesn't know whether or not it was rape. The reasons of her hesitation are: the fact that she was drunk, she was attracted to him and she even danced with him and she wanted to be his girlfriend in high  school. Oprah tells her that because she said “no” and because he put his hand in her mouth to keep her quiet. She explains that her being drunk has nothing to do with it and that she shouldn't feel guilty. Andy Evans should feel guilty. Sally also tells her that what happened was not her fault, that her attacker should be punished for what he did. Jerry tells her to “speak up” about the sexual assault. Melinda seems to be scared of speaking up because she is ashamed and thinks that it was her fault. It is clear however that she is a loyal friend as she reveals the secret so that Rachel doesn't become his next victim. In the end we find out how Melinda really felt and that she was going through a hard moment in her life that she really wanted to talk about but was struggling to do so. We understand that it is important to speak to people if you want them to understand what you are going through. Moreover, I feel like Melinda's story could happen anywhere which means that a lot of people can relate to this story.  Most of the action in the book occurs in Melinda's mind. 

According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) there is a sexual assault every two minutes in the United States. Sexual assault is usually sudden, unexpected and unpredictable. In one year there are about 213,000 victims of sexual assault and about 60 assaults are not reported to the police. 44% of rape victims are under 18 and 80% are under the age of 30. It is therefore really important for women the learn how to defend and protect themselves from predators by staying away from alcohol and drugs which can make it harder to fight the assaulter. In June 2014, a 16 year old girl named Jada was drugged and raped at a friend's party in Houston. There were pictures of her naked body were posted to social media and mocked by people who recreated the pose with the hashtag #jadapose. Women are still held responsible for being raped. On 20th May 1978, the National Times noted that “The Honolulu Star Bulletin” recently reported that Judge Robert V. Richardson dismissed a rape charge against a motorist who had knocked down a woman who was jogging and raped her. Apparently the woman who was in shock after the rape had not been resistant enough.  These examples show that this type of treatment of women is frequent and can be even worse than what Melinda experienced because of the current trend of social media with teenagers. It is absolutely unacceptable for a woman to be held responsible for being raped, even if she wore a short skirt or short. It is the man's job to control himself. It is because of these cases like that of the woman jogger that most young woman don't even report rapes to the police. They are ashamed, scared of being told that it was their fault, and scared of being judged.

According to the Daily Beast, on August 27th 2012 Emma Sulkowicz accused Colombia student Paul Nungesser of rape. He was discharged after a disgraceful investigation and a hearing during which Emma was asked insensitive and extremely inapropriate questions about the position she was in during the rape. Just like Melinda, her assaulter was still in the same school as her. She began carrying a 50-pound mattress to symbolize the burden. This act is also her senior project for her visual arts degree. Two other women, including his ex-girlfriend filed complains similar to hers (groping, mental abuse, physical abuse...) but they were both dismissed. “My rapist- a serial rapist- still remains on campus even though three of the women he assaulted reported him” says Emma Sulkowicz. After she started carrying the mattress, a lot of students from other universities started joining her and doing the same thing while speaking out about being raped. It became a battle against college rape. 

Melinda refers to Andy Evans, the senior who raped her as "IT" because he is more like a monster or an animal than a human being. Andy Evans is depicted as a typical rapist. He already has a reputation. He is also known as Andy Beast in Melinda's mind as a result to his animal-like actions.  Melinda wrote that Andy Evans is a guy to stay away from on the bathroom stall door and a lot of girls responded such as “He should be locked up.”, “Call the cops.” and “He's a creep”. Melinda's graffiti in the bathroom reveals that she is probably not his first victim. Indeed, according to studies, about two-thirds of male rapists are people who knew the victim. 38% of rapists are friends of the victim which is why victims experience extreme stress and trauma after being raped. 15 to 16 rapists will never spend a day in prison or pay for the crime that they committed. My source for these statistics is the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).  


The structure of this book resembles a memoir or an autobiography. Melinda tells her story in the present tense, like a monologue. She thinks a lot and so the story is like a look into her mind. There are many symbols in Speak which show Melinda's stress and trauma. Some of them are: the lips, the trees, the mirror and the closet. After the rape, Melinda's lips are dry, cracked and in egregious condition which represents her inability to speak. “I pull my lower lip all the way between my teeth. If I try hard enough, maybe I can gobble my whole self this way.” (page 39).  “My last tree looked like it had died...” (page 92). She tries to make her trees look dead, just like she is on the inside. The trees for her art project become better and more detailed as she starts to speak. She avoids mirrors after the rape because she cannot face her feelings and maybe herself.  She feels insecure. “I get out of bed and take down the mirror. I put it in the back of my closet, facing the wall” (page 17). The closet is a secret place where she isolates herself so she does not have to speak.  

Melinda feels like an outcast and experience fear and guilt due to the rape. It looks like this novel themes are really gender-based violence, friendship, rape culture, and depression. Melinda like other rape victims bottles up her feelings instead of speaking out against her assaulter. After a rape, victims can become afraid of entering into relationships with other people especially men. Melinda became closed up and private which explains why she refuses David's invitation to his house even though she has a crush on him. They also experience lack of trust in men, they try to avoid them. Rape victims experience fear, humiliation, anger, guilt, shame. They feel degraded and powerless. However, some women who try to control their attitude after a rape and act in a calm manner are usually not believed because of the stereotypes that rape victims should have a hysterical behavior. Melinda is even having trouble sleeping because of the traumatic event. Isolating themselves seems to be a typical behavior of rape victims.

This book is not inspired by a true story but it could be. Rape is unfortunately too common  within the United States and particularly among young adults . This book is important because it deals with a difficult, adolescent issue that numerous people can relate to. Speak is not only a book that can inspire girls all around the world but it can also educate boys and young men about rape. They can learn how their actions can ruin someone's entire life and reputation. 

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