Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: A-

From the back cover:
From her first moment at Merryweather High, MJ Sordino knows she’s an outcast. She busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops—a major infraction in high-school society—so her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t know glare at her. She retreats into her head, where the lies and hypocrisies of high school stand in stark relief to her own silence, making her all the more mute. But it’s not so comfortable in her head, either—there’s something banging around in there that she doesn’t want to think about. Try as she might to avoid it, it won’t go away, until there is a painful confrontation. Once that happens, she can’t be silent—she must speak the truth.

Speak does an excellent job capturing the voice of a clever, angsty ninth grader. A lot of the things she says (it’s first person, but whether it’s a journal isn’t clear) are overly melodramatic, and sound much like the sort of symbolic crap that I once wrote in my journal. This is occasionally a little annoying, but since the same could be said about most ninth graders, it worked for me. I listened to an unabridged audio version. The girl who read it, Mandy Siegfried, was awesome. Very authentic voice for a fourteen-year-old, and she (or someone) even made up tunes for the little snippets of the school cheers that are included, which was amusing.

It’s not a real surprise what’s happened to MJ, but even so—when the details are finally revealed, they still carry impact. Despite the blurb up there about the painful confrontation being the catalyst, I found her change to be a gradual one, which I liked, so there wasn’t exactly one single event I could point to that brought about an end to her silence. Although MJ’s muteness and mental retreating are frustrating, the wry analysis of high school and her other various experiences makes her a likable character. Now that it’s over, I find that I’ll actually miss hearing her. Kind of ironic, given the whole point of the thing.

Speak is a Printz Honor book. It’s good. Check it out.

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