Back in September I posted a short article about a challenge to Laurie Halse Anderson's Novel Speak. I didn't review the book at that time, and just now read it.
Speak addresses a very difficult topic:the rape of a teenage girl and its emotional consequences. It is a touching, painful look into the mind of the victim, her feelings of shame, guilt, isolation, and above all, inability to communicate. The entire book explores her struggle to speak, to find her own feelings and give them expression, to believe she had a right to speak, to make herself heard by adults and peers who don't want to hear her, who really aren't listening. Ultimately, it is a story of healing, of trauma overcome.
The book is neither vulgar nor lurid. There are references to sexual activity, but no detailed descriptions of them. Strong words are used very occasionally, just enough to give the book some realism as a reflection of high school society. There is no glorification of violence, criminality, drugs, or alcohol. This is a book about consequences.
Speak is a powerful learning opportunity for anyone, whether reading it personally or in a classroom. Some of the things the reader might learn from it are that alcohol consumption increases the risks of becoming a victim, that a perpetrator who raped once is likely to rape again, that emotional scars are not minor just because they are hidden, that a victim needs to speak up to protect others, that a victim needs to speak up to protect herself, to heal herself, that peers and adults need to pay attention when a teenager shuts down emotionally. I can't imagine how or why anyone would want to deny these lessons to any teenager, or adult for that matter.
This is certainly my opinion as a reader, but not only mine. Speak has been a bestseller on the New York Times and Publishers Weekly lists, a winner of the Michael L. Printz award, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and has been adapted into a movie.
In September, the book was challenged but retained in Temecula, California. The author's website acknowledges challenges in Michigan, New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Washington, New York, and Maine. Luckily, since review committees usually include adults who actually read, challenges are mostly decided in favor of keeping the book on the shelf, in the curriculum, or wherever it was challenged.