There’s only a few months and a few Favorite Book Features left for the year. October’s featured book is one that was a great source of inspiration for my novel Somewhere Only We Know: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Although most book lovers find it impossible to choose just one favorite book, if I had to, Speak would probably be the one.
Fourteen year old Melinda Sordino called the cops at the end-of-summer party, and as she starts her freshman year of high school no one will talk to her. Her old friends ignore her, and no one else comes near her except a self-centered new girl. But Melinda can’t get herself to talk about what happened the night of the party anyway. She tries so hard to forget it, even though it’s destroying her. Melinda spends the school year trying to draw trees for art class and make it through school without speaking. Because if she speaks, then she’ll have to speak the truth.
Speak is one of those books that stays with you for life. I wish I had heard of this amazing novel sooner, because Anderson is now one of my favorite authors. The best part of Speak is the book’s voice. It’s hard to define voice. Voice is the style something is written in, and when it is good it becomes a work of art. It’s something you know when you see it, and Speak has one of the strongest voices I’ve ever read. I think I like this book so much because I want to write like this. I want to create characters like Melinda who completely draw readers in to their stories. Melinda doesn’t speak much out loud, but in her head she is observant and witty. She has a story to tell, and readers get to hear it even if the people around her don’t.
I also love this book because of its connection to art. Melinda finds that she is able to use art to be able to express herself, even when she can’t find the words. I tried to do something like this in Somewhere Only We Know, but with writing. I love being creative and I make a lot of crafts, but I can’t draw. If I could I’m sure I would turn to art more, but instead I turn to words. And so the girls in my book turned to the written word to figure out other possibilities for their lives. In Speak, it is incredible to watch as Melinda attempts to draw trees and her teacher encourages her to dig deeper. I used a quote about this as the epigraph to my novel:
I have a great respect for Anderson because she chose to write about such difficult topics like rape and depression. Most people don’t want to talk about it or acknowledge that they happen, and people like to censor books about those topics in order to “protect” children from them. In “A Comment About Censorship” which appears at the end of my copy of Speak, Anderson writes, “Censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the dark and makes them vulnerable… Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.” A writer friend of mine put it another way when she said we shouldn’t shelter our kids but insulate them.
Teens need books like Speak and Somewhere Only We Know because real teens are experiencing these issues. And I’m going to continue reading and writing books like these.