Speak Study Guide
Introduction to Speak
Speak is a novel by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was first published in 1999, to immediate critical acclaim. It won numerous accolades and was a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award. Since its publication, the novel has remained popular in English classrooms due to its poignant depiction of trauma, recovery, and personal empowerment. However, because it deals with sexual assault and emotional trauma, the book has also been frequently challenged and censored. Anderson has since revealed that the events of Speak were based on her own experience with sexual assault, which she discusses further in her 2019 memoir, Shout.
Speak is a social novel, with the primary themes focusing on trauma, recovery, and identity reformation. Protagonist Melinda’s experiences with social and emotional isolation in the aftermath of her assault highlight the importance of friendship and support. Instead of receiving the understanding she deserves from her peers, Melinda is ostracized and prevented from speaking the truth about her experiences. It is ultimately the rediscovery of her creative voice that allows Melinda to begin reconstructing her identity, highlighting the importance of art and individuality.
A Brief Biography of Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson (born 1961) is an American author whose works are primarily targeted towards young adults. Born in Potsdam, New York, Anderson was an avid reader from a young age, and her parents encouraged both her literary and linguistic pursuits. Her family also encouraged her passion for travel and world cultures, and Anderson spent thirteen months on a Danish pig farm as an exchange student when she was sixteen. Upon returning to the states, she attended college and began studying language and linguistics. She began her writing career as a freelance journalist while also raising her two daughters. She did not publish her first independent work, a children’s book set in Kenya called Ndito Runs, until 1996. The publication of her young adult novel Speak, which depicts the aftermath of sexual assault, in 1999 brought Anderson national recognition, with critics praising the novel’s thoughtful portrayal of trauma and serious consideration of adolescent identity development. Anderson has since released several other notable works of teen and young adult fiction, as well as an assortment of historical novels. Anderson’s 2019 memoir Shout explores the autobiographical elements that inspired her to write Speak.