Another fantastic book that I didn't expect to enjoy this much. Speak is about a young girl who is raped at a party. However, Anderson creates a complex, realistic protagonist. Melinda has been victimized, and there is fallout, but there is also tremendous strength in the character, and an ability to see through the veneer of idyll that is supposed to be suburban high school. The experiences and observations of this character constitute one of the best descriptions I've read of what high school is like for young girls.
There are no preachy over-simplified agendas about teen rape. Rather than focusing on societal flaws, or the court system, Speak deals in a very real way with the internal experiences of one heroic girl. She's not an outcast, or promiscuous. The rape is clearly not her fault, and she doesn't even blame herself. And yet, she finds herself unable to speak about it, or explain what happened to family and friends.
We hear often in the news, about the self-esteem of girls in our culture today. Studies show that girls and boys are equally confident until they hit middle school, at which point the confidence of girls takes a nosedive. Anyone who works around teens can see this phenomenon in action. Anderson does a masterful job of conveying the pressure to blend in, the danger of drawing attention to oneself, the sense of judgement that follows girls through the hallways. We can tell girls not to care what others think and to be themselves all we want, but the fact of the matter is that this pressure is not in their heads. It is real. It is part of our culture, and Anderson's book reveals it in subtle yet gut-wrenching way.
Best of all, Melinda's strength and character win out in the end. She grows up and overcomes what has happened to her, leaving us with the hope of better things to come. Tragic events don't have to permanently derail an otherwise promising life. We can rise above any number of circumstances, and be changed for the better, our human spirit unquenched.