Book Review: Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: Speak

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Illustrator: Emily Carroll

First Published: 22nd August 2019

Genre: Contemporary

Format: Graphic Novel

Synopsis

Resonant and fiercely authentic. This timely, critically acclaimed and award-winning modern classic is now a powerful graphic novel.

‘I said no.’

Melinda is an outcast at Merryweather High. Something happened over the summer – something bad – and now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen. So what’s the point in speaking at all?

Through her work on an art project, Melinda is finally able to face what really happened that night. But before she can make peace with the ghosts of the past, she has to confront the reality of the present – and stop someone who still wishes to do her harm. Only words can save her. She can’t stay silent. Not any more.

‘With the rise of women finding their voices and speaking out about sexual assault in the media, this should be on everyone’s radar… Powerful, necessary, and essential.’ Kirkus

My Thoughts

TW: this book deals with the aftermath of rape and sexual assault, as well as mental health issues

I came across Speak upon the recommendation of the librarian at my school. In form time, we have to spend time reading to our class and I was looking for a graphic novel to introduce my class to as something a little different. Although as a class we are reading Maus, this recommendation really attracted me as I love reading books about trauma as I’m fascinated by how this manifests itself in art. I’ve branched out more and more into graphic novels and I’m really enjoying them and Speak felt incredibly timely in the wake of the #metoo and #timesup movements and the recent tragic deaths of young women in the UK.

The novel follows Melinda at high school in the wake of a rape at a house party. She has been unable to confide in anyone about this and the trauma of the event is raw, powerful and visceral. The trauma permeates every aspect of her life: her studies, her relationship with her parents (who are not happily married) and her lost friendships. High school is a challenging environment to navigate and all of this is compounded by the horrific event she experienced.

What was so moving about this book was Melinda’s inability to confide in anyone. She did not report the rape – she attempted too but was too scared to follow through. She was then shunned and ostracised by her friends for having phoned the police at the party, not realising the reason why. When she did try to warn someone of the male who assaulted her, she was called a liar. Some of the characters in the book were so nasty and it made me reflect on just how important it is that we listen to victims. None of the sexual violence was glorified. Although not a victim of sexual violence myself, I felt this was incredibly realistic and powerful.

In a graphic novel, the words and the illustrations need to work symbiotically and I felt that Speak was an excellent example of this. Each chapter was short and exemplified the challenges in Melinda’s life and her emotions and internal conflict as she tries to understand what happened. The prose was lyrical and provided some beautiful metaphors for her trauma. The illustrations by Emily Carroll also deserve special mention. A challenging topic was treated with great dignity and the images really brought the emotion to life. In chapters of reflection and action, the beautiful illustrations perfectly captured the ambiance.

If you’re looking to read some graphic novels, then I would highly recommend Speak. This book will stay with me for quite some time.

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