How is Speak a representative of "coming of age" literature.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "coming of age" tradition is part of a cultural construct that focuses on the transition form childhood to adulthood. Most coming of age stories in literature, as it occurs in Speak, describe the conflict of a young main character undergoing a transformation that leads to maturity. Two of the most famously well-known works of literature dealing with coming of age as a thematic focus are The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. These two novels present young males discovering the world around them, revisiting the concepts of life, as their know it, and getting to know people for who they really are. Although these young characters do move into a more mature and knowledgeable place, they do not completely cut ties with the essence of innocence which their age affords them to keep. 

Similarly in Speak, Melinda Sordino is transitioning form the often trying age of 13 into 14, and from her freshman year in high school onto her second year. Throughout the narrative, divided into grading periods which, in turn, represent the different seasons of Melinda's year, Melinda lets the reader peek inside her ordeals, her secrets, discoveries, and her opinions of those around her.

Melinda's ordeal is more complex than that of the characters in other coming of age novels: she has been raped, and she does not seem capable to either contain nor confess her situation. Her internal turmoil is exacerbated by the external chaos that she experiences everyday as a student in a high school which lacks identity, community, and joviality. As a result, Melinda chooses the extreme, and ceases to speak altogether. Instead, she engages in internal contemplation and personal discourse, aiming to somehow find a way out of her suffocating situation.

In typical coming of age style, the main character will face her fears and overcome her hindrances. This happens in Speak after Melinda finally comes clean and speaks about her ordeal. This feat puts her back in control of her situation, and of her life. This does not mean, however, that Melinda has ceased to be a young woman with the attributes that youth bestows such as innocence and naivitee; she is still all of those things, but she is also wiser, and stronger, as a result of her experience.

Concisely, Speak deals with the issues and preoccupations that are inherent to younger populations. One part of Melinda's issues comes from the maturity tests that take place as new teenagers are about to reach the threshold of the mid-teenage years. Melinda is a representative of a coming of age character because, after she experiences a major conflict, she goes through a series of events that force her to reconsider her views on life, and to revisit her role within her immediate society. In the end, she overcomes her fears by understanding them from a new perspective. This is the official "coming of age" on which this type of literature focuses.