Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 316
In 1999, Speak, her pioneering novel about a teenage girl who had been raped, was published; twenty years later, Laurie Halse Anderson published Shout! In this “poetic memoir,” Anderson discusses her own experience that inspired the fictional treatment: she was raped at age 13, and it took 25 years before she could speak with a therapist about it. In addition, Anderson shares communications she has received from other rape victims in those intervening years, both in conjunction with events where she has spoken—where people often approach her in tears—and written messages they have sent.
One of Anderson’s motivations for writing this book was the huge number of such communications, as people of all genders identified with Melinda, the protagonist of Speak. But another was the changes that have occurred in social attitudes toward sexual assault, especially but not limited to the #MeToo Movement. The book’s two parts roughly correspond to those reasons, and their literary form is likewise distinct, with the first half written in free verse.
Anderson confronts the differences in the social and political climate since she struggled to process her experience in the 1970s, compared to the challenges that victims of sexual assault face in the 2010s. There are graphic and otherwise shocking elements throughout the book. Some of the shocks pertain to the climate of silence and secrecy that continue to exist. Speak has been banned and student requests for Anderson to talk at schools are often denied by administrators. Among the points she raises are the varying definitions and understandings of what constitutes sexual assault and how boys are frequently being mis-educated to understand consent as implicit. Dispelling myths is one significant component, but the contextualizing of individual experiences in a larger culture—within the United States—that sexualizes children and emphasizes aggression as a component of manhood are also significant features that Anderson reminds the reader require further attention.