Summary & Theme: The book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is about an incoming freshman named Melinda Sordino. She’s riding the bus to school but she doesn’t have any friends to sit with. While she’s looking over the crowd of kids on the bus she spots her ex best friend, Rachel, but even she mouths “I hate you.” After Melinda attends her first few classes she already hates high school. When she gets to Art class she is assigned a subject that she must turn into art for the rest of the year. Melinda receives the word “Tree” and doesn’t understand how to make that creative. She asked to switch but her teacher wouldn’t let her. Later on, she meets a girl named Heather in one of her classes, although they are completely different people, they start to hang out. Heather really wants to become popular and would like Melinda to help her. She couldn’t care less about popularity but continues to nod and agree with Heather. A couple weeks later, she discovers an old janitor closet that no one uses; she decides to make this her hideaway.
She decorates it to her liking and sits in it when she needs some space. Due to Heather’s plot for popularity, Melinda finds herself caught up in helping her impress “The Marthas”, a clique Heather wants to become a part of. Soon enough, Heather tells Melinda that they can’t be friends anymore because they are too different and that she is really weird and depressed. For the first time, she actually wants to be friends with Heather; for Heather is the closest she has to a friend. Melinda starts to skip school more and more and her grades slip. Her parents are angry and disappointed, so they have a meeting with the principal. They try to get her to speak up about why she is acting out but she just stays silent. Her punishment is in school suspension; Andy Evans is there with her. All the memories from an incident in summer come rushing back, the rape. Over the summer, Melinda went to a party with her friends was she was raped by Andy, she tried to say no but he just covered her mouth. She didn’t know how to react so she called the police.
It’s the real reason she called the cops. But she never told anyone the truth, so they continue to hate her. Melinda’s tree project for Art is making some progress; her teacher applauds her for some of her attempts and says that they show pain. She finds out that her old best friend, Rachel, is dating Andy Evans. She wants to warn her so she puts a note in her bag. Andy asks Rachel to prom and she says yes, Melinda assumes she didn’t care about the note. After school one day, Heather comes to Melinda’s house and asks for help, she makes Heather leave and doesn’t see a need to help her after how she dumped their friendship. Melinda goes to the library and finds Rachel there, she tells her that Andy raped her and that’s why she called the cops.
Rachel accuses her of lying and immediately leaves. After prom, the word gets out that Rachel ditched him in the middle of prom and confronted him about how he raped Melinda. He is furious and comes after Melinda, he see her cleaning out her secret janitor closet and locks her in. He attempts to rape her again but she screams this time and stabs him with a piece of glass. The lacrosse team gets help. Soon enough, the school finds out about how he tried to rape her and he is known as a pervert. Melinda finally found her voice and learned how to speak when it was needed. Her tree project also comes along and expresses emotion. Now that she can speak, she can grow, just like her tree.
The theme in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is that our inability to speak leads to an inability to grow. Melinda goes through a traumatic event that she never tells anyone about. Yet, it crosses her mind every waking day and holds her back. It is the cause of most of her problems, her lack of friends, slipping grades, and unhappy relationships with her parents are all linked to her silence. The sooner she breaks her silence, the sooner she can rediscover herself. Her failed attempts at her tree project represent her failed attempts at living in silence. When she makes an attempt to tell Rachel the truth, she makes another attempt at the tree. Although they aren’t successful, they are a start. Melinda’s tree comes to life after she finally speaks up for herself to Andy, she draws roots on the tree for the first time, just like how she can grow for the first time. With detaching herself from what has held her back for so long, comes growth as a person and the ability to find herself. Setting: The most important setting is Melinda’s Art teacher’s classroom.
The art she creates in this classroom displays her journey to recovery. She starts out confused on how to uses trees as her muse, just like she’s confused about how to react to her rape. As she progresses, her attempts at creativity though trees start to have some success, just like how started to speak up to Heather. Telling Heather that she won’t help her was the start of her growth. Lastly and most importantly, Melinda finally finds utter success with her tree project; this success comes after she stands up for herself to Andy and stops him from hurting her again. Her great realization is apparent in the classroom, it gives her a place to channel her thoughts though art. Opening Sequence: The book starts out with Melinda riding on the bus to her first day of high school. She is unsure where to sit because she doesn’t have any friends. Her old best friend is riding the bus as well and tells Melinda that she hates her. Even a piece of trash is tossed at her head. She doesn’t defend herself or tell anyone to stop, so she’s continually being broken down. It’s her biggest obstacle and stays with her constantly. This scene foreshadows her struggle with friendship throughout the book and how people seem to walk all over her. She just watches these unsettling things happen to her and stays silent.
Closing Sequence: The closing sequence consists of Andy attempting to rape Melinda again but she speaks up and tells him no, he continues to hurt her so she grabs a piece of glass and stabs him. He is scared straight. Then the lacrosse team finds them and gets help. The news spreads that he attempted to rape her and his reputation is ruined. This scene redefines Melinda as a person. She had become the girl that doesn’t speak and is pushed around by everyone. But she finally finds her voice and puts an end to what’s been haunting her for so long. She doesn’t have to hide her pain any longer and can move on. In the time Melinda spent staying silent, she lost herself. HTRLLAP: The chapter “Is That a Symbol” in HTRLLAP by Thomas C. Foster best describes this book.
There is an endless supply of symbols throughout the novel that have multiple meanings. One of them is during the frog dissection, Melinda uses the word “she” to describe the frog, and how helpless it was being pinned down. She couldn’t handle watching the dissection because it reminded her of the rape, so she fainted. The frog is a symbol of her helplessness and the dissection is a symbol of the rape and aftermath from it, she still feels pinned down by it and she’s still scared. Another symbol is the abandoned janitor’s closet she uses; it’s a symbol of how she tries to get away from what she can’t confront. She hides herself in a place where no one will find her to escape the outcome of her rape. Melinda doesn’t want to admit that she was hurt by Andy and that it wasn’t her fault so she tried to bury the pain away, she does this by not speaking about it. Quotes/Dialectical Journals:
Level 2 & 3 Questions| Important Quote from the Text| Analysis| Are we able to change our destiny?At what point does making a choice end and an inevitable destiny start?| “You just chose your destiny, you can’t change that.” (12)| This quote applies to Melinda more than just for her art project, it applies to her rape. She chose not to tell anyone about it early on, so she must live with the repercussions from it. It was destined due to her choice. The only way to change that is if she speaks. | How does art provoke expression?How does self expression benefit those who use it?| “Are words or numbers more important than images? Who decided this? Does algebra move you to tears? Can the plural possessive express the feelings in your heart?” (11)| Some people don’t speak because they don’t have an outlet to, this is Melinda’s case. Her parents don’t seem to care very much and her previous friendships didn’t seem open. Art is the key to getting her to speak. She was subconsciously speaking through art and expressed her failures to speak through it. Then when she did speak up it was expressed through her art.