Age Appropriate

Parental Reviews Of Non-Parental Books


Title: Speak
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Penguin Group
Number of Pages: 224
Advertised Age Level: Young Adult

Age and Grade of Main Character(s): 14/9th grade

Language: no profanity
Sex: main character is raped but the act is never described
Drug/Alcohol Use: main character drinks beer in an episode that is only referred to, not described
Violence: main character is attacked by her rapist and nearly raped again
Social Issues: teen depression, rape, friendlessness, abandonment by friends, delinquency
Suggested Movie Grade: PG-13

Premise: Melinda Sordino begins high school not just unpopular but as an outright pariah. None of her old friends will speak to her, and even the kids she doesn’t know personally are talking about her behind her back. She earned this ostracism by calling the cops during an end-of-the summer party which caused a lot of people to get into a lot of trouble. What no one knows – what Melinda will not even let herself remember – is that she was raped during the party.

As Melinda struggles to deal with her assault, she becomes more and more depressed. Her grades take a nosedive, she does everything in her power to avoid people, and she barely even speaks. Her parents are at a loss as to what to do with her. To top it off, she must face her attacker at school, powerless to do anything. When he begins dating one of her former best friends, Melinda finally begins to wake up again, knowing that she can’t allow anyone else to become the next victim.

Potential Points of Concern: While Melinda’s attack is not described graphically and is told in flashback/as a memory, it is still a very disturbing incident. She is raped in the woods during a party by a boy she doesn’t know after having drank a couple of beers. Then she is nearly raped again when her attacker feels threatened after she finally tells someone what he had done to her. The second attack is told in real time and is much more intense and violent although the actual rape is stopped.

As Melinda spirals deeper into depression, she cares less and less about school, grades, everything. She skips class, fails to do homework and withdraws to the point of near muteness.

Told from Melinda’s point of view, all of the teachers at her school save one – the art teacher – are incompetent bullies.

Melinda’s one and only friend, Heather, ditches Melinda when she becomes part of a more popular group.

Melinda’s parents are aloof at best, negligent at worst. While they show concern about their daughter’s poor grades, they don’t seem to take any steps to address her blatant depression and become hostile and defensive when a school guidance counselor questions the stability of their marriage.

Age Appropriateness: Ages 13 and up

NOTE: This book has been made into a movie. The movie is rated PG-13.


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4 thoughts on “Speak

  1. avid reader on said:

    Who wrote this? The book describes the act of assault and rape, the anguish, mental and physical breakdown, isolation and desperation, bewilderment. Its protagonist is 13 when raped. The book is set throughout her freshman year of high school. This is no PG-13 book.

    • ageappropriate on said:

      This book does not graphically describe the two assaults. And given that the main character was assaulted when she was 13, it seems fitting that those over 13 would be an appropriate audience for the book.

  2. think it through on said:

    The book’s synopsis is the real issue here – as is the movie rating – which seem to make this Young Adult novel into a tale fit for young adults. That’s a head-spinning assertion.
    This book will be disturbing to many young adults and to many full adults. It should neither be assigned nor recommended without knowing the potential reader and her or his sensibilities. Regrettably, the ending of this book is a quick sprint to a rosy future. After a careful and clear-eyed story about the protagonist’s difficult, lonely, near-suicidal experience recovering from the rape and the fact that dialing 911 to report it brought the cops to the party and alienation into the protagonist’s first year in high school, Laurie Halse Anderson neatly wraps up the matter with sunshine in spring, seeds sprouting from the thawed ground, and a sudden ending involving the revelation of the long-held secret and a new-found voice and resolve for the protagonist. Her depression magically begins to lift and won’t resurface even after a violent, bruising attempted rape at the end of the school year in the one safe space at school the protagonist created for herself. Perhaps the reviewer who synopsized this book read first and last chapters in order to then write an equally rosy review? The bulk of the book is a clear-eyed treatment of the rape victim and her ordeal. I find it unfathomable that the subjects of sexual violence, mental anguish, isolation, and coming to grips with being a victim earn only a PG-13 rating. Is that because the sex described involved no frontal nudity?

    • ageappropriate on said:

      I did read the entire book. In my opinion, it is suitable for people over the age of 13, especially since it involves a girl who is assaulted at a young age. If you wish to shield your children from the mental anguish, isolation and other negative results of being sexually assaulted, that is obviously your prerogative and right. Shielding young adults from all of the bad things in the world doesn’t mean that they don’t happen. Perhaps some young girl out there who was sexually assaulted will read this book and find the strength she needs to seek out help.

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