Speak Characters

The main characters in Speak include Melinda, Mr. Freeman, Heather, and Andy Evans.

  • Melinda is the narrator of Speak. An outcast at school, Melinda is depressed and barely speaks at all. Her narration reveals that she is intelligent, observant, and funny, but her trauma leads her to suppress these qualities around others. 
  • Mr. Freeman is Melinda's art teacher. Unlike other adults, Mr. Freeman treats Melinda with kindness and compassion.
  • Heather befriends Melinda, only to dump her later when she realizes Melinda is depressed and unpopular.
  • Andy Evans, a popular senior, is Melinda's rapist and the primary antagonist of the novel.

Characters

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Melinda Sordino

Melinda, a freshman in high school, is the protagonist and narrator of Speak. It takes a leap of the imagination to understand how silent and morose she must appear to those around her, since with the reader, she is highly communicative and often amusing. Melinda has a dark, sarcastic sense of humor and uses her sharp wit as a defense mechanism. At first, she appears to be a typically moody, angst-ridden teenager with a cynical attitude toward the world in general and high school in particular. It soon becomes apparent, however, that she is hiding a deeper trauma. Even without the terrifying memory of her rape, Melinda would have plenty of difficulties with which to contend: her family is distant and dysfunctional, she has been abandoned by her former friends, and she is treated poorly at school, where she is surrounded by callous hypocrisy and stupidity. 

Melinda’s trauma impacts nearly every facet of her life, leading her to retreat inward and keep others at a distance. As she becomes more isolated, Melinda’s inner turmoil manifests itself outwardly; she stops speaking, stops bathing, and regularly skips class. Melinda’s personal development over the course of the year is paralleled in her year-long art project, which is themed around trees. Trees come to serve as a symbol for Melinda, and her various art projects throughout the year reflect her emotional state. Early on, she draws dead trees that have been struck by lightning, suggesting that her trauma has left her feeling dead and frozen. As time passes, Melinda’s art spurs an interest in gardening. Through gardening, she learns how to nurture seeds and prune sick branches from a tree; applying these lessons to her own life, she realizes that she cannot let her trauma poison her and stop her from growing. By the end of the year, Melinda’s drawings depict trees that are coming back to life, a representation of her own healing as she regains her voice.

Mr. Freeman

Aptly named, Mr. Freeman is a free-spirited, intelligent, and creative art teacher. He quickly becomes Melinda’s favorite teacher and is the only adult she comes to trust. Though he genuinely enjoys working with the students, he finds himself frequently frustrated by the school’s bureaucracy—particularly when it comes to assigning grades, which he disagrees with on principle. Mr. Freeman is a sensitive and inspiring teacher, but he also shows signs of fatigue and depression at times, feelings with which Melinda can sympathize. Art class serves as a place of refuge for Melinda, and it is Mr. Freeman who assigns Melinda the tree project that forms a critical part of her healing process. When Melinda finally decides to open up and tell her story at the end of the novel, she chooses to share it with Mr. Freeman.

Andy Evans

Andy Evans is a senior at Melinda’s high school and the principal antagonist in the narrative. Handsome, popular, and rich, Andy has no trouble attracting girls. However, his superficial charm hides a violent temper and cruel streak. Melinda refuses to say his name—only referring to him as IT or the Beast—for much of the book. Andy’s rape of Melinda, which took place the summer before her freshman year, is a source of deep trauma for her; it was also the catalyst for her calling the cops on the party, an incident that has left her an outcast and pariah at school. Eventually, Melinda discovers that she is by no means the only girl whom he has abused. Even those who have not been directly harmed by Andy, such as Ivy, can sense that he is essentially a dangerous and despicable character. 

Andy’s malevolent presence at school torments Melinda, and she experiences physical terror whenever he appears. Seemingly aware of his effect on her, Andy deliberately seeks to make her uncomfortable, which suggests a strong element of sadism in his personality. By the end of the novel, it appears that the rumors about Andy’s behavior have caught up with him, leading most girls at the school to avoid him. When he tries to assault Melinda a second time, she turns the tables on him, threatening him with a shard of glass until it is he who is left scared and speechless.

Heather

Heather is a new student who has moved to Syracuse from Ohio. Unaware that Melinda is a social pariah, Heather attempts to befriend her right away, though the friendship is not genuine on either side. Both girls initially decide to spend time together largely in order to avoid appearing to be alone. Heather is outwardly friendly, but in reality, she is shallow, self-absorbed, and socially ambitious. Heather is desperate to be accepted by one of the popular cliques at school, the Marthas, and eventually finds Melinda’s morose, negative attitude impossible to endure. Rather than try to help or support Melinda through her obvious depression, Heather breaks off their friendship and abandons her. Later, Heather tries to reinsert herself into Melinda’s life when she needs help decorating for prom. Melinda, who is now more assertive, recognizes that Heather is a bad friend and refuses to help her.

Rachel Bruin

Rachel was once Melinda’s closest friend, but their friendship ended after Melinda called the cops at the party over the summer. During the course of the book, Rachel is hostile and unkind in her behavior toward Melinda. Wanting to reinvent herself and join a clique with more social cachet than her former friends, Rachel starts going by “Rachelle” (to make herself sound more European) and dates Andy Evans, who is popular despite his dubious reputation. Melinda agonizes over whether to tell her former friend the truth about Andy, but when she finally does, Rachel reacts poorly and refuses to believe her. Shortly after, however, Rachel dumps Andy. It’s left unclear whether they will rekindle their friendship, but Rachel calls Melinda’s house and leaves a message after news of Andy’s attack spreads through the school.

David Petrakis

David Petrakis is Melinda’s lab partner in biology class and one of the few students at school who treats her well. David is a brilliant and ambitious student, but he is also kind, thoughtful, and courageous. In particular, Melinda admires how David stands up to Mr. Neck’s intolerance in front of the whole class. David is a good friend to Melinda, and though he takes her side when she protests her required speech in social studies class, he also encourages her to speak up and use her voice. David seems to have some romantic interest in Melinda and invites her out for pizza, though Melinda is still too traumatized by her experience with Andy to go. 

Mrs. Sordino

Mrs. Sordino is Melinda’s mother. She spends nearly all her time working at a clothing store downtown and has little time for her daughter or her husband, with whom she continually argues. She notices the changes in her daughter but assumes Melinda’s antics are just a typical teenage cry for attention—remarking, “I don’t have time for this” when she discovers that Melinda has deliberately cut her wrist with a paperclip. Though Melinda does want to confide in her mother about the rape, their lack of closeness ultimately prevents her from opening up.

Mr. Sordino

Mr. Sordino is Melinda’s father, a distant and indifferent parent who takes little interest in his daughter and often seems to be in a bad mood. When Melinda visits the office where he works, she thinks his job is easy and cannot understand why he has such a high level of stress. Like his wife, Mr. Sordino is clueless as to the cause of Melinda’s behavior and assumes it is the result of school influences. Though he struggles to understand his daughter, Mr. Sordino is supportive of Melinda’s newfound interest in gardening and buys her seeds from the store.

Nicole

Nicole, like Rachel, is a former friend of Melinda’s who largely ignores her at high school. She is less vindictive and shallow than Rachel, however, and seems to have little time for Melinda mostly because she is wrapped up in her athletic commitments and new jock friends. Nicole and her lacrosse teammates are the ones who find Melinda and Andy in the closet, and they spread the news of Andy’s attack to the entire school, restoring Melinda’s reputation.

Ivy

Ivy was a friend of Melinda’s from middle school. Although they are no longer close, Ivy never shuts Melinda out as much as her other ex-friends do. Ivy is interested in art, an interest Melinda comes to share, and she teaches Melinda some drawing techniques. Ivy is generally sympathetic and supportive, and although she does not know precisely what happened to Melinda, she instinctively dislikes and distrusts Andy Evans.

Mr. Neck

Mr. Neck is one of the nastiest and most narrow-minded teachers at Melinda’s high school, more interested in asserting his authority and ranting about immigration than in teaching the students anything about social studies. He uses his power to bully Melinda and other vulnerable students but is unable to cope when David Petrakis stands up to his attempts at intimidation.

Principal Principal

The school principal is so ineffectual and anonymous that Melinda cannot even remember his name, referring to him simply as “Principal Principal.” He tries to form connections with the students, but none of them respect him.

The Marthas

The Marthas are a clique of high school girls, individually known as Meg, Emily, and Siobhan. Taking their name from Martha Stewart, the Marthas pretend to be stylish, altruistic and filled with community spirit but are actually shallow, selfish, and pretentious. They feign interest in Heather, who desperately wants to join their group, so they can saddle her with various projects—such as decorating the faculty room or setting up for prom—and take credit for her work.

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