A traumatic event near the end of the summer has a devastating effect of Melinda's freshman year in high school.
1999 National Book Award Finalist
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Speaking out at the "wrong" time-calling 911 from a teen drinkingparty-has made Melinda a social outcast; now she barely speaks at all.A conversation with her father about their failed Thanksgiving dinnergoes as follows: "Dad: 'It's supposed to be soup.' / Me: / Dad: 'Ittasted a bit watery, so I kept adding thickener....'/ Me: ." WhileMelinda's smart and savvy interior narrative slowly reveals the searingpain of that 911 night, it also nails the high-school experiencecold-from "The First Ten Lies They Tell You" (number eight: "Yourschedule was created with your needs in mind") to cliques and clans andthe worst and best in teachers. The book is structurally divided intofour marking periods, over which Melinda's grades decline severely andshe loses the only friend she has left, a perky new girl she doesn'teven like. Melinda's nightmare discloses itself in bits throughout thestory: a frightening encounter at school ("I see IT in thehallway....IT sees me. IT smiles and winks"), an artwork that speakspain. Melinda aches to tell her story, and well after readers havededuced the sexual assault, we feel her choking on her untold secret.By springtime, while Melinda studies germination in Biology andHawthorne's symbolism in English, and seeds are becoming "restless"underground, her nightmare pushes itself inexorably to the surface.When her ex-best-friend starts dating the "Beast," Melinda can nolonger remain silent. A physical confrontation with her attacker isdramatically charged and not entirely in keeping with the tone of therest of the novel, but is satisfying nonetheless, as Melinda wields ashard of broken glass and finds her voice at last to scream, "No!"Melinda's distinctive narrative employs imagery that is as unexpectedas it is acute: "April is humid....A warm, moldy washcloth of a month."Though her character is her own and not entirely mute like theprotagonist of John Marsden's So Much to Tell You, readers familiarwith both books will be impelled to compare the two girls made silentby a tragic incident. The final words of Marsden's books are echoed inthose of Speak, as Melinda prepares to share her experience with afather-figure art teacher: "Me: 'Let me tell you about it.'" Anuncannily funny book even as it plumbs the darkness, Speak will holdreaders from first word to last. l.a.