Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, artwork by Emily Carroll, 387pp, RL: MIDDLE SCHOOL


In 1999 Laurie Halse Anderson published the groundbreaking young adult novel about rape, Speak. Controversial, Speak is banned a often as it is part of high school curriculum. It was assigned reading for my older children when they were in high school and was the driving reason why I read it. I'm not proud of it, but I often shy away from books on difficult topics. And Speak: The Graphic Novel sat on my desk for months before I was able to read it, despite my appreciation for the work of Emily Carroll, who wrote and illustrated the creepy graphic novel Through the Woods and illustrated the superb graphic novel Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCool. Of course, I am very glad I finally read it. For me, the story of freshman Melinda and how she copes with being raped at a party by a popular senior, particularly through art, was even more powerful in this format. And, reviewing now meant that I could also share this news that was revealed this week: Laurie Halse Anderson has written the non-fiction book, Shout. To be published in March of 2019, Shout is part memoir, with Anderson telling her own story of being raped at age thirteen, and also sharing the stories that readers have told her over the course of the 20 years since Speak was published. On writing her newest book, Anderson said, "When I started Shout it was just my rage: Why can't we talk about these things? Watching these brave people speak up as part of #MeToo just let me take the lid off, and that felt good. It was a second liberation for me."
Melinda begins her freshman year an outcast, ostracized by classmates who know that she called the cops, shutting down a huge party. What no one knows is that Melinda was raped and that is why she called 911. With her parents fighting at home and school increasingly miserable, Melinda struggles through her days. She bites her lips, leaving visible marks. She clings to a false friend, the only person at school who socializes with her, her rapist torments her and eventually starts dating her former best friend, and she gradually stops talking. Mr. Freeman, Melinda's art teacher, gives each student a word, which will be the subject of their creations, telling them, "You'll spend the whole year learning how to turn that subject into art. You'll sculpt it, sketch it, papier-mȃché it, carve it, paint it, explore it in every way possible until you figure out how to make it say something, express an emotion." Melinda's subject is a tree.

Carroll's artwork, especially when she is conveying Melinda's experience of being raped and gradually allowing herself to remember the incident, is powerful, even more so because it is done in black, white and grey. The starkness of Melinda's emotions and the bleakness of her situation mirror the winter months that make up most of this story. When spring does come, along with Melinda's liberation from silence, the relief, the lifting of a weight, is palpable. 

With the #MeToo movement and the many voices speaking out, Speak: The Graphic Novel is timely (even though this magnificent adaptation was probably started more than two years ago) and surprisingly relevant and contemporary despite being 20 years old. I was definitely sucked into the story, but I did find myself noticing small moments where aspects of our current digital age turned up in Speak: The Graphic Novel. I think it would have been glaring to leave technology out of the story entirely, and there are a few discreet smart phones here and there. However, Melinda's isolation is so real that I never stopped to think about today's rampant use of social media and its absence from this graphic novel. A painful, triumphant story of survival, Speak: The Graphic Novel is every bit as important and, no doubt, will have the staying power of Anderson's novel.

Source: Review Copy


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