Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, is a graphic novel retelling of the 1999 novel of the same name and author. The original text was notable for its candid tackling of sexual assault, and the trauma it causes. It faced censorship then, but in an era where more and more victims are finding their voice, Anderson’s tale of depression, growth and empowerment is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.
Melinda is a social pariah at school for reasons the reader won’t discover until later on. It’s not too difficult to piece together what’s happened to her, but early guesswork will do little to soften the bludgeoning impact of what’s to come. Her cynical narration paints a genuine portrait of a teenager who has fallen out of love with life. The revolving door of side characters, meanwhile, make for a delightful skewering of American school culture. There’s an authenticity to the way Anderson writes teenagers, sure to keep pages turning. All of this is bolstered by Emily Carroll’s excellent art, whose occasionally nightmarish illustrations help to accentuate Melinda’s depressed world view.
Speak is firmly in the YA camp, meaning there are going to be parts that some readers may find upsetting. It is, at its core, a story of healing, and I’m certain most will come away with positive feelings. If Asking For It left you infuriated at how a callous society fights the victims it supposedly protects, Anderson’s story may leave you inspired at how its victim manages to fight back.