So, the reason SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson is called SPEAK is because the main character, Melinda Sordino, hardly talks to anyone.  She bites her lips until they’re bloody and clams up when she’s asked a question.  However, as the reader it’s easy to forget this because the story is told from the first person point of view.  Melinda’s narration–her constant internal dialog–is the story’s voice.

This is a perfect example of the point of view being the only point of view that would work to tell this story.  Even in a close third person narrative, there would be no way to get to know how witty and lonely and normal Melinda is.  There is absolutely no way to get acquainted with this main character unless you’re planted directly inside her head.  The success of this story hangs on the reader liking Melinda.

And you do.

Her voice is very conversational.  She sees the humor in the mundane and puts it in a way that is both familiar and fresh.  When her ex-best friend Rachel changes her name to Rachelle because she’s hanging with the foreign exchange students, Melinda’s observations of her changed behavior makes Rachelle sound like a bad caricature of a French film noir coffeehouse artist.  Melinda beautifully spells out the universal contradiction that is the badly behaved yet somehow still revered All American Cheerleader.  And her observations of her parent’s failed attempts to produce an edible Thanksgiving dinner is the stuff of comic genius.  Seriously.

Yet, at the same time, what’s happening to Melinda at school–her ostracization, the bullying, and her impending breakdown–is very serious.  Ms. Anderson manages to handle these topics lightly.  It makes the stress and depression Melinda experiences poignant rather than preachy.  This book is devoid of the teenaged angst that I think some teen-centric entertainment substitute for authentic adolescent emotion.  It’s refreshing and makes for a compelling read, even for an adult reader.

I have one final observation: Melinda speaks with an authentic teen voice without the use of hardly any slang.  This is a good reminder for me as a writer that teens can and do have vocabulary.  They don’t have to be all “totally” and “like” and “freaking”.  Melinda Sordino is a thoughtful person and her lack of frivolous syntax supports that.

So, that’s SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson.  I completely understand why this book is an award-winner.  It manages to be quiet without being boring.  The teen is authentic and her story is inspiring.  If you’re like me, once you start this book, you won’t put it down.

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