What high school cliques does Melinda name in Speak and why are they important?

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The book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is what we call a bildungsroman. This word translates to a coming-of-age tale, meaning a story that focuses on the main character's emotional, physical, and spiritual growth in their developing years. In Speak, we follow the growth of protagonist Melinda Sordino as she overcomes a traumatic event that changes her life and her ability to cope.

The first section of the book, titled "First Marking Period," follows Melinda through her first semester of freshman year. In the first chapter, titled "Welcome to Merryweather High," Melinda reflects on her community, her friend group, and her inability to speak. It's during this reflection that she names the "clans" in her school:

Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants, Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eurotrash, Future Fascists of America, Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths, Shredders. (4)

Melina also mentions her former clan, the Plain Janes, but due to an event we are not yet aware of, the group has split.

Overall, Melinda does find connections with most groups in the story through her ex-friends, but the most influential group is the Marthas. The Marthas are a group of girls who have money, dress to the nines every day, and aim to help the world. Melinda describes the group as "Very Connecticut, very prep" (43). They coordinate their fashions, like the popular group in the movie Mean Girls, but they also actually do help the school. The girls run canned food drives, tutor students, decorate the teachers' room and halls, and raise money for various charities.

Melinda is not in the Marthas, but her only friend at the start of freshman year—a girl named Heather, who recently moved from Ohio—becomes their newest member. This new club eventually causes a rift between Melinda and Heather, illuminating Heather's selfish needs and Melinda's severe depression.

One last group Melinda mentions later in the book is the "Cybergenius clan" (37), home to her lab partner, David Petrakis. As the school year progresses, Melinda begins to open up to David, and they become good friends. Their relationship is a significant part of Melinda's healing throughout the course of the school year, and it allows her to feel safe and heard.

It's noteworthy to mention the Cheerleaders as well. Everything connected to the school's identity, including the Cheerleaders, reflects Melinda's negative judgments about her self, her insecurities, and her lack of identity. As other kids in the school aim to find their identities and voices, so too does Melinda.

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The answer to your question can be found within the first few pages of the novel.  Melinda has entered the Merryweather High auditorium for what seems to be the first assembly of the school year.  Melinda immediately notices all of, what she calls, the high school "clans."

We fall into clans:  Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants, Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eurotrash, Future Fascists of America, Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths, Shredders.  I am clanless. (4)

Melinda goes on to explain that her old clan the "Plain Janes" has "splintered," with its members being absorbed by other clans above.  It is this statement that makes a few of these clans quite significant (even the one that is now extinct):

PLAIN JANES:  There are probably other members of this group, but the main ones were Melinda, Rachel, Ivy, Nicole, and Jessica (who has since moved to Nevada).  Obviously, their name suggests that there was nothing incredibly special about them as a group:  average looking girls doing average things.  That has changed.

JOCKS:  This clan is significant because it has absorbed Melinda's "ex-friend" Nicole.  Nicole has always been athletic and shows lots of promise in the sports arena so she spends the beginning of school "comparing scars from summer league sports" (4).

EUROTRASH:  Melinda doesn't shift Rachel into this group quite yet, but it becomes clearer as the novel flows.  Rachel begins to be known as Rachel/Rachelle, hanging with all of the foreign exchange students.  At this first assembly, Melinda something a bit simpler.

It's Rachel, surrounded by a bunch of kids wearing clothes that most definitely did not come from the EastSide Mall. (4)

MARTHAS:  This clan is important because it is the precice one that her new "friend" named Heather tries to join.  They are the ones who always wear matching clothes with accessories and do volunteer work day and night.

SUFFERING ARTISTS & THESPIANS:  This is the group that has absorbed Ivy.  Melinda says that "she has enough personality to travel with two packs" (4).  In my opinion, it Ivy with her art experience that truly breaks the ice again with Melinda at the mall, chapters later.

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