Nearly 20 years ago, Laurie Halse Anderson wrote “Speak,” a book about a girl who was sexually assaulted at a party. Now, Anderson works with artist Emily Carroll to create artwork that only amplifies the struggles protagonist Melinda faces in the lonely walls of her home, the cold hallways of her school and the collapsing recesses of her own mind.
Before the party, Melinda was as close to normal as a middle schooler could be. She and her friends dressed as witches for Halloween, enjoyed sleepovers on the weekends and she maintained a steady B average. Her family life wasn’t perfect, with constantly fighting parents only motivated to remain married until she graduates, but it’s life. Then she is sexually assaulted at a high school party and thirteen-year-old Melinda starts her high school years as a social pariah. Her desperate call to the police after the assault was overheard by other party-goers, the phone ripped from her hand before her story could be told and she spends a year silently suffering from the unknown events of the night.
“Speak: the Graphic Novel” is the captivating story of Melinda’s year of silence and was released in February of 2018, nearly 20 years after the original novel by Laurie Halse Anderson was published. Yet, the gap between when the story was originally penned until it was reimagined as a graphic novel does nothing to take away from the story. Not only is it still modern and heartbreakingly relevant, but its retelling in this format only brings the circumstances around Melinda’s sexual assault and her psychological response into even greater clarity.
After the party, Melinda is left alone to fall into a depression. She suffers from flashbacks and fainting spells, struggles to pay attention in classes and is terrified by her male peers, but no one notices or cares enough to do anything. Her parents blame the school, her school blames her parents and all of the above believe she’s just acting out to gain attention. Yet, the worst part of the situation is that Melinda can’t move on — because he is still there. The rising senior who took Melinda’s voice, confidence and all but the physical aspect of her life away from Melinda that night still goes to her school and, no matter how hard she tries to warn others away from him, no one will listen.
This story is about finding a voice and trying to recover after an assault. It’s about survival and the debate over if sharing a story will only lead to reliving the experience or will help begin healing — with the added horror of wondering if the experience, if shared, will even be believed.
I highly recommend this book to all readers late middle-school years and up. The book does not go into detail of the assault itself, but gives invaluable insight into the mind of someone who has suffered through a traumatic experience, what can help them as well as some of the signs to look for. It also serves as a warning without frightening the reader. This, combined with its graphic novel format makes it a quick and easy read for readers of even an early middle-school reading level, ensures that all readers of these ages can read and learn from Melinda’s tale.