Saturday, September 25, 2010
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and My Thoughts on the Controversy
I had planned to review The Faerie Path by Frewin Jones as my next post, but the news that I received about a week ago concerning the words of Missouri State University's associate professor Wesley Scroggins against Laurie Halse Anderson's novel Speak sent me into a wild flurry of commenting on blog posts, tweeting, and showing my support in nearly every form available on the internet for this extraordinary literary masterpiece.
I am sure that, if you are an active member in the book blogging community or Twitter, you have heard much about this. But, for those of you who don't, I would like to inform you about it. Although I have gotten word of this from various sources, the main article that I gleaned from was written by Laurie Halse Anderson, on her blog entitled Mad Woman in the Forest. I also read some of Scroggin's opinion piece in the News-Leader of Springfield, MO.
He considers Speak, and I QUOTE directly from his article, "soft pornography." He goes on to explain the premise of the novel with an opinion that I am still puzzled and upset over. This is how he described it:
"This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team."
He goes on to say more, but I urge you to read it for yourself. Most of what he says afterward is more of the same thing.
First of all, is he actually suggesting that a book is "filthy" as he called it in his piece just because it's about a dysfunctional family? Surely he must know that dysfunction is an unfortunate part of reality and is in no way wrong to speak of in a book, unless it is a blatant slam to family (which Speak is definitely not). Second, I do not believe on any level that Laurie Halse Anderson meant to portray all schoolteachers and adults as "losers." I know many friends who go to public school and have teachers as cruel as the ones that Melinda has; the same for adults. High schoolers need to know that they're not alone in that struggle; Laurie Halse Anderson confirms that for them with passion and power. Also, Melinda does have a memorable teacher in this book that is a central character to the story! He is her art teacher, who supports her creativity and is incredibly kind and sincere. He was not, in any way, described as a loser. Third, about the cheerleading team. This is not shed in a positive light in this novel; Melinda views these girls with utter contempt. This is also apart of the high school experience for many; I have known many promiscuous girls during my school career. It's unfortunate, but it happens.
This is also a review as much as it is a rebuttal. Here is the real synopsis of the book, not the one clouded by judgment and negativity:
"Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth."
I want you to know that I am not supporting this book merely because it is what is unifying the literary community-much of it-in protest. I read this book recently, carefully analyzing it and pondering its message. I can tell you with complete confidence that this book is the real deal. I give you my word that I would never advertise a book if I did not believe in it with my heart, mind, and soul. I was a Laurie Halse Anderson fan before Speak; I am even more deeply grounded in that status after.
Poignant, chilling, and heartbreakingly beautiful, this is the tale of one girl's painful road to renewal. She is deemed the outcast, tormented by her classmates and former friends, and at the mercy of brutal teachers. Laurie Halse Anderson writes in the pitch-perfect voice of a broken teenager, who has learned to be silent as the haunting terror of what has happened to her unravels out into her life, crushing all that lies in its path-if she allows it to. But after so much time in silence, will she find the courage to raise her voice?
I loved this book. Even though I, thankfully, have never gone through what the main protagonist had to survive, I could feel the vivid sweep of the fear, anger, and depression that marked Melinda's tone. The betrayal of her friends both new and old and the struggle to trust the friends that might be genuine was something that I could relate to, and it was so realistic that I felt that Laurie Halse Anderson must have been present when I went through all of those social trials, then sat down and wrote this book, weaving in even harsher truths of sexual abuse. The characters were realistic and three dimensional, and the plot was also extremely plausible-there was nothing truly melodramatic, just pure grit, as she described the cruelty of Melinda's peers and teachers, and the cool distance of her parents. The ending was phenomenal, and I won't spoil it; that's all that I have to say.
The only thing that I'd change is that there is this one particular character that I didn't feel have enough closure, but that's the only remotely negative comment that I have toward this book. It's brilliant.
Overall: 5 Stars
I have initially been enraged by the blind words that Mr. Scroggins wrote toward Speak-but I have decided instead that I feel toward him my utmost pity. He doesn't understand how many people have been helped and possibly even saved by Speak-I have heard countless stories from the girls themselves of the relief they found from this novel.
Some friends of my past were rape victims. The tragedy is all too real. Often they stay silent as their predators still prowl around the halls of their high school, rumors of the true story dripping like acid out of their mouth (sometimes they would brag about how they scored with the girl, which is so awful that I can't even begin to comprehend it) and the girls would be branded as easy and many other despicable terms that I won't list in this post. Many times they feel alone, they feel guilty, they feel scared. I don't know if any of those friends ever read Speak, but I would definitely give it to them if the time ever arose. It gives so many of those girls hope-they see that other people have gone through it. It connects them to a broad network of hopefulness and acceptance from other people. I hope that Laurie Halse Anderson will forever be encouraged by every person that stands up for her exquisite novels.
I encourage you to read this book and decide for yourself: will you stay silent when the oppressors are loud, or will you speak up?
Until the next review,
Here is the link to Laurie Halse Anderson's post about the issue: http://madwomanintheforest.com/this-guy-thinks-speak-is-pornography/
And here is the link to Wesley Scroggin's opinion piece: http://www.news-leader.com/article/20100918/OPINIONS02/9180307/Scroggins-Filthy-books-demeaning-to-Republic-education