Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson Summary
Melinda begins high school as an outcast; everyone is angry at her for calling the police during a party over the summer. Nobody, not even Melinda’s ex-best-friend, Rachel, has asked Melinda why she did what she did. At an assembly on the first morning of school, kids taunt Melinda and laugh at her. When Melinda catches Rachel’s eye, Rachel mouths “I hate you” across the room.
Melinda watches her old friends—Ivy, Nicole, and Rachel—join up with new cliques. Inwardly Melinda mocks the little clans the other students form, but it bothers her that she is unwelcome in every group. The only friendly person is Heather, a new girl who is as socially isolated as Melinda is.
Melinda regards everything her teachers say as lies, including their assertions that they are willing to listen and help. In her mind, Melinda mocks the teachers, giving them unkind nicknames like Hairwoman and Mr. Neck. In return, many of the teachers treat Melinda with suspicion.
At lunch on the first day, Melinda realizes she has nowhere to sit. She panics. A kid throws food on her shirt and everyone laughs. Melinda flees the cafeteria and runs into Mr. Neck, who gives her a demerit for wandering the halls. Melinda does not speak up to defend herself. She assumes Mr. Neck would not listen.
Only art class makes Melinda happy. Her teacher, Mr. Freeman, says each student will spend a year making art on a single theme. Melinda likes the project but dislikes her theme, “tree,” which she draws at random. When she tries to get a different theme, Mr. Freeman says she is stuck with the one she has.
Through the first several weeks of school, Melinda’s isolation remains almost complete. She spends her free time napping and putting off homework. She develops the habit of chewing her lips, which end up sore and scabbed. Even at home, she is alone. Her parents communicate with her primarily through notes on the kitchen counter.
Melinda’s old friends Ivy and Nicole make no effort to talk to her. Rachel is actively cruel, and so are many of the older students....
(The entire section is 857 words.)
During the second school term, Melinda spends most of her time in her broom closet hideout. She covers the mirror with a poster of Maya Angelou so she will not have to look at herself. She brings in her drawings of trees to decorate the walls.
When she is outside this refuge, she hardly talks to anyone. Her throat is sore from lack of use, and her lips are sore from her biting habit. When she is alone with Heather, Melinda occasionally finds her voice and speaks a little. Around adults, however, she only stammers and fails to communicate. In her classes, Melinda makes little effort.
One day in social studies, Melinda doodles trees during a debate about immigration. The teacher, Mr. Neck, says the borders of the United States should have been closed to new immigrants in the year 1900. A student, David Petrakis, protests against the xenophobic tone of the lecture. When Mr. Neck tells David to sit down or go to the principal, David remains standing silently. Melinda is surprised at how much this boy can say with his silence.
Thanksgiving goes poorly for Melinda. She watches silently while her mother, swamped with work, tries and fails to cook a traditional dinner between frantic phone calls. Melinda’s father thinks he can do better, but he turns the turkey into an inedible goo. He buries the bird in the back yard next to the family’s dead beagle.
Afterward, Melinda digs up the turkey’s bones and brings them to art class. Mr. Freeman is thrilled. He gives Melinda permission to skip Spanish and work on art made from the turkey bones. Ivy, one of Melinda’s former friends, asks permission to stay too. Although Melinda is heartened when Ivy acts friendly, she misses her chance to start a conversation. Instead, Melinda arranges her turkey bones with the head of a Barbie doll, making a creepy piece of art. “This has meaning,” Mr. Freeman says, “Pain.” Melinda does not stay to talk about this. Instead, she flees to her next class.
In social studies, David Petrakis sets up a tape recorder. Melinda finds out why when she overhears a secretary saying that David’s parents have hired a lawyer. The tape recorder and later a video camera are allowed in class to record “potential future violations” of students’ civil rights. Melinda...
(The entire section is 941 words.)
One morning Melinda misses the bus. Her mom tells her to walk to school. On the way, Melinda stops at a bakery to buy a doughnut. She runs into IT and bolts like a rabbit.
Melinda decides to skip school. She wanders around town, takes the bus to the mall, and ends up just waiting for school to get out so she will be safe to go home. By the end of the day, Melinda decides skipping school is not much different from going.
In English, Melinda’s class is reading The Scarlet Letter. Melinda relates to Hester, the main character in the book, who has to wear an A for “adultery” on her chest. Melinda thinks she should wear a letter too: S for “silent” or “stupid” or “shame.” Like the rest of the class, Melinda gets impatient with the teacher’s search for symbolism in the story. Rachel, Melinda’s ex-best-friend, speaks up and says she does not believe the symbolism. In response, the teacher assigns everyone an essay for homework. Melinda reflects that speaking up always results in punishment.
One day at lunch, Heather takes Melinda to a corner of the cafeteria, away from the Marthas, and delivers a break-up speech: “I think it’s time for us both to admit that we...just...are...very...different.” Although Melinda has never been very enthusiastic about Heather, she is desperate to keep her only friend. Heather is unsympathetic. She tells Melinda they cannot eat lunch together anymore.
On Valentine’s Day, Melinda sees a heart-shaped note taped to her locker. She thinks it might be from David Petrakis, but she is afraid to open it. Thrilled with the idea that somebody may actually like her, she draws pictures with David in biology. Later, when Melinda works up the courage to open the note, she finds out it is not from David at all. It is a note from Heather, thanking Melinda for understanding that they cannot be friends anymore. Melinda runs to her broom closet hideout and cries.
Melinda continues skipping school. Soon she is called in for a conference with her parents, the principal, and the guidance counselor. At the meeting,...
(The entire section is 886 words.)
Spring is beginning, and Melinda is going to most of her classes. She passes a few tests and pays attention somewhat to the world around her. Andy Beast, her private name for Andy Evans, begins hanging around with Rachel.
One afternoon, Melinda goes to the mall. She runs into Ivy, who actually speaks to her. Ivy is working on her clown project for art. The two girls sit together for a while. Ivy draws clowns, and Melinda draws trees. Ivy says Melinda is better at art than she thinks.
Melinda begins to worry about Rachel, who clearly has a crush on Andy Beast. One part of Melinda feels that Rachel is a traitor who deserves to suffer for being cruel. However, the larger part of Melinda is worried that Andy...
(The entire section is 1348 words.)