Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

41qap6ztvolInformation: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was originally published in 1999 by Puffin. ISBN: 014131088X

Plot SummarySpeak is the story of Melinda as she endures horrible trauma and is unable to tell anyone what has happened. Melinda is at high school party, trying to meet new people and make friends, when she is raped by an older high school student. After calling the police to the party, Melinda is left with no friends and a complete outcast to the rest of school. No one will listen to her or even acknowledge her, leaving Melinda to process the horrific event at the party on her own. As she processes what happened on her own and tries to move on in school, Melinda develops a love and talent for art. It is through her art that Melinda begins to form her own way to express herself. Her healing is only beginning when she realizes the upperclassman who had attacked her was still a threat to her. Now Melinda has to decide how she can stand up for herself and how she can finally speak out about what happened.

Critical Evaluation: Speak is a startlingly honest novel about the struggles of speaking out against someone in high school. Anderson wrote the novel in first person, allowing readers to see the trauma of being attacked and the isolation that occurs when there is no one to speak to about it.  The first person narration also opens the reader up to the healing process Melinda experiences through her art. By being so transparent about such a traumatic event, Speak offers the bitterness of real life, without discounting the strength of a silent teen.

Reader’s Annotation: Melinda must search for a way to find her voice again after being brutally attacked at a high school party. Just when Melinda has found a small form of self-expression through art, Melinda is threatened again, forcing her to make the choice to stand up for herself and be heard.  

Author’s InformationLaurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous national and state awards, as well as international recognition. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Laurie was honored with the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes(Laurie Halse Anderson).

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary

Curriculum Ties: (Florida State Curriculum Standards): Understanding Key Literary Ideas

Book Talk Ideas:

  • Melinda finds a way to express herself through her art. Are there any other non-verbal ways for teens to express themselves?
  • What different ways can people listen better for those who have trouble speaking out?

Reading Level/ Age Interest: Grades 9-12 (Scholastic) and Ages 14-18

Challenge Issues: Language, Sexual Abuse, Violence

Challenge Defense File:

Selection Policy

The System will select and maintain a comprehensive collection of print, non-print, audio visual and electronically accessed materials to meet the informational, educational, and recreational needs of the citizens of Sarasota County. The System will strive to offer wide ranging collections that meet the various ages, interests, educational levels, and cultural backgrounds of all members of the community and will provide collections through which an individual may explore all points of view and issues of interest. In making selections, the library staff will do so based upon principle rather than personal opinion, reason rather than prejudice, and judgment rather than censorship. Furthermore, staff will be responsive to public demand for materials of contemporary significance and interest, while balancing this with the need to collect and preserve materials of permanent value. While library staff makes material selections based upon the tenet of one system, one collection, selectors recognize the distinct characteristics and needs of the populace that each library services. Community profiles are used to guide selectors in efforts to develop special collections and to meet the unique patron needs within each library.

The ultimate responsibility for selection materials rests with the General Manager of Libraries and the Management Team, who in turn delegates selection responsibilities to the Collection Development Librarians (Sarasota County Policy).  


Anderson, L. (1999). Speak. New York, New York: Puffin. Speak was published for high school teens, between the ages of 14-18. The novel tells the story of Melinda after she is raped at an end of summer party. Anderson details the trauma and the beginnings of Melinda’s healing process, before she forced to face her attacker again. Speak depicts what it is like to be a teen, who is suffering and unable to speak to anyone about their trauma. Melinda shows the strength of silent characters, who are learning to heal from their experiences. Speak opens up discussions on trauma and how to find your voice when no one will listen. Other recommendations like this book include: Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman, A Step from Heaven by An Na, and True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff.

Active Listening Skills

  • Remain calm
  • Listen thoughtfully and carefully to any arguments for the collection
  • Engage in a discussion that considers every concern, even if you do not agree


  • Edgar Award Nominee for Best Young Adult (2000)
  • Michael L. Printz Award Nominee (2000)
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (2000)
  • Oklahoma Sequoyah Award for YA (2002)

Reconsideration Form


  • Positive Reviews: CNN

Selection Tools:

Why I chose this book:

I chose Speak for its brave unflinching look at what happens after a teen is sexually assaulted. Anderson shows the powerful healing that can take place when teens use art and other forms of self-expression.


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