About books #2: Speak
I saw the movie based on this book for the first time when I was about 10, and the story that’s told in it has stuck with me ever since.
Not only did the movie feature Kristen Stewart (whom I actually love to this day) and one of the actresses from Flight 29 Down (which was basically Lost for kids, but better), the way the story was portrayed really just grabbed me.
It’s been approximately 12 years since I first saw that movie (and trust me on this one, it was certainly not the last time!) but I’ve only just now finally gotten around to reading the book it was based on – and there’s a couple of reasons for that.
First, I was scared I wouldn’t like the book as much as I did the movie – or even worse, the book would reveal elements that would force me to rethink my opinion on the story.
Second, I just knew that reading the book would be hard – I’m generally someone who gets really emotionally involved in just about everything I read, and as such, certainly during the school year, I try to read mainly fun, light things – considering that I’m stuck with Racine, Virginia Woolf, Proust and Camus during the year, I really don’t think anybody can blame me for that. So, basically, I didn’t want to put myself through the emotional upheaval that reading the book would, no doubt, cause me.
And finally – as I said: I loved the movie and the way it portrayed the (let’s be real here) quite heavy and difficult subject of the story – and I didn’t know for sure whether the book would be able to live up to that or not.
I’ve finally read it – and let me tell you: I am both happy I didn’t read it until now, and upset because I could’ve spent the last couple of years enjoying re-read after re-read of the amazingness that is Laurie Halse Anderson’s writing.
This story begins when Melinda, the main character, starts high school. From the beginning it’s very clear that something is off about her, but it’s only throughout the story that the reason for the darkness that seems to be looming over her and her lack of speaking starts to become clear. Although I’m not going to say what exactly happened to her (because, well, spoilers), suffice it to say that it’s not something you would wish on anybody, and throughout the story I couldn’t help but wonder how I would have dealt with a similar situation – probably no better than Melinda did.
What struck me most about this story is that the character’s behaviour, which could have come across as annoying, or even just brat-like, is portrayed in such a realistic, logical way – the way Melinda talks less and less throughout the story seemed like such a natural thing to happen, that as a reader I didn’t really realise how deep she seemed to have sunk, until the climax of the story.
Here’s the thing about the characters: because I did see the movie before I read the book, I couldn’t help but imagine the character the way they were portrayed in the movie – surprisingly, that just really drove home how respectfully the movie was made. Even the way the actors held themselves seems to be a reflection from the way they were described by the author – and that’s not something that can be said about many movie adaptations.
That being said, let’s talk about these characters. Melinda is the main character, is also the narrator, and at times she seems to almost vanish in what she’s showing the reader – I don’t really know how to explain this, but it almost seemed as if, the more Melinda is trying to oppress her memories of ‘the thing that happened’, she starts to oppress her own presence as well, both in her life and as a narrator.
You don’t like anything. You are the most depressed person I’ve ever met, and excuse me for saying this, but you are no fun to be around and I think you need professional help.
This beautiful quote is said by Melinda’s self-declared “friend” during the first half of the book, Heather (both in the book and in the movie!) and not only describes Melinda quite well, it also gives you a good idea into the kind of person Heather is – namely, someone who is none of that, knows what she wants, and goes for that, even if that involves “ditching” Melinda.
And you know what the weird thing is? Even though she “ditches” Melinda, I still quite like Heather, because the author makes it so that we get it – we understand why she does it, and it’s real.
The rest of the characters can be largely divided into two groups: those who don’t understand Melinda, including all her friends from the year before, and those who are trying to get Melinda to fit into the mold they think she should be trying to fit into, this group includes her parents as well as the majority of her teachers.
The two exceptions to those groups? Her Art teacher, and her Biology lab-partner – and even though they do only these tiniest of things, throughout the story I really grew to like them – and I still don’t know why!
I feel like this might be kind of obvious by now, but let me just state it again: I seriously loved how this story was told – the story as such was brilliant, obviously – there’s a reason it’s been so controversial since it was first published, and in this case that reason is positive – but the way the story was put onto the paper was just so real – I don’t really know how to explain it other than that: it was real – and yes, I may be the type of person to get overly involved in just about every single story I read, but this one? Man – it just grabs you and takes you along for this amazing ride, and you’re just trying to be okay for her, or to will Melinda into being okay, and you keep reading anyways, and you come across phrases like this one, that just leave you sitting there, thinking: wow.
When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You’d be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside–walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It’s the saddest thing I know.
This may just be my favourite read of the year so far – up until today, that place had been held by I Am The Messenger, so that is saying something!
This book may be incredibly dark, and though-inducing, and maybe even a slight bit depressing – the end also makes it hopeful in the weirdest way, and after finishing it, I seriously just felt the need to sit there and stare into the distance for a while, trying to figure out what to do next with my life – not even overreacting….
So yes, I feel like this book is definitely worth the buzz it has gotten since its publishing, and I feel like this story is one that everybody should hear. But honestly? Whether you do it through the book, the movie, or both? Your life won’t quite be the same when you’re done.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
PS: I was gonna wait and not post this until tomorrow – but then I re-read the last phrase of the book, and I just couldn’t do anything but press “publish” – this book did something to me!
“Let me tell you about it”
PPS: if you do want to read the book: you can buy it on Amazon here!