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Shout

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Shout Book Poster Image
Poignant, poetic memoir about healing from sexual assault.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a great deal about author Laurie Halse Anderson's background, her educational training as a linguist, various words and ideas in other languages (especially Danish), and the trauma of sexual assault and the importance of consent.

Positive Messages

The memoir stresses the importance of reporting abuse but also explains why so many survivors keep silent about their assault. The family backstory also promotes forgiveness and redemption. The author encourages communication and honesty between parents and children, not listening to people who think women are complicit in rape, and the beauty of "Yes" -- of consent -- in intimate and sexual relationships. Learning and talking about consent can help combat rape culture. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Laurie perseveres despite difficult and depressing circumstances. She learns the value of forgiveness and of determination. She learns from her readers and explores why young people need to learn and to talk about consent in order to combat rape culture. She also provides an alternative background to the typical high school to four-year university to publishing superstar narrative.

Violence

Laurie recounts that she was raped at age 13 by an older boy she liked and thought they were together. She also recalls that her father beat her mother one time. She includes stories of other instances of sexual assault and rape, mostly from her readers. They range from familial abuse to date rape.

Sex

Mention of kissing and the first time she has consensual sex, looks at a naked man's body.

Language

Occasional strong language: "s--t," "bulls--t," "s--thead," "f--king," "dick," "dickless," "bitch," etc.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Discussion of drinking, alcoholism, teen drug use, smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shout is award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson's memoir that focuses primarily aftermath of being sexually assaulted as a young teen, how it inspired her to write her breakthrough novel Speak, and how many readers have made similar revelations to her since the book's publication in 1999. Written in verse, the book is also an overview of her entire life, from childhood in upstate New York to the devastating rape at age 13 to a formative year abroad in Denmark in high school, and later her college years and beyond until she's an aspiring writer and mother, and then is finally compelled to write Melinda's story in Speak. Halse Anderson doesn't shy away from mature topics like alcohol and drug use (by adults and teens), domestic abuse, and most overtly, sexual abuse. She not only recounts her own memories of sexual assault, but those of many (unnamed) readers. There's occasional strong language (including "s--t" and "f--king"), as well as many references to rape and rape culture, but it's all teen appropriate as she attempts to empower young men and women to use their voices, advocate for consent culture, and support survivors of abuse. Readers who prefer audiobooks will enjoy that the book is read by the author herself.

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What's the story?

SHOUT is critically acclaimed Speak author Laurie Halse Anderson's memoir in verse about her childhood, a sexual assault at age 13, and her subsequent coming of age. The story stretches through Halse ("rhymes with waltz") Anderson's entire life but focuses on the impact of her own experience as a rape survivor and how that inspired the story of Melinda in Speak, which was published in 1999. The book chronicles the author's relationship to her parents, her dysfunctional family and childhood in Upstate New York, her troubled adolescence, and a life-changing year spent abroad as an exchange student in Denmark. It goes on to reveal the dream that introduced Halse Anderson to her Speak protagonist Melinda and to cover her college and early years as an aspiring writer. There's also a section dedicated to what she's learned from her millions of readers -- particularly the teens and adults who've shared their own sexual abuse with her. Interspersed with the #MeToo stories are anecdotes about her various books, but Speak is the primary one explored in the memoir.

Is it any good?

Laurie Halse Anderson's memoir is a profound and powerful exploration of memory, abuse, family, and the healing power of breaking a silence. The poetry ranges from beautiful and amusing to utterly gut-wrenching. The author shares so much of her background, from her complicated background with a quiet and hard-shelled mother to a compassionate but alcohol-abusing father, who was a Protestant minister haunted by his time liberating concentration camps at the end of World War II. The author's sexual assault itself isn't dwelled upon for its physical damage but for its lifelong emotional impact. There would be no Melinda and no Speak if not for Laurie's own experience as a 13-year-old looking for romance and safety and ending up with a harrowing moment of violence.

Shout readers would ideally have already read Speak, along with one or two of the author's other works, but the memoir makes a touching introduction to her life and literary contributions. The memoir is particularly relevant, because as the writer argues, even in post- #MeToo society, rape culture and lack of consent are still prevalent. As Anderson reveals, no matter where she talks to teens, there are still always young men who ask her what the big deal is, why her protagonist is so upset when she "liked" the guy who raped her. On the other hand, there are still women and men (and girls and boys) who continue to struggle with their past experiences. The poems can be as short as a few lines to as long as a few pages, but the language is clear and direct, with metaphors and themes young adults will relate to or at least understand. Two of the most effective poems include one in which Anderson implores men to stop thinking they have special genitals entitled to score or win, and another implores women to think of the vast number of times they've been cat-called, touched inappropriately, abused, or assaulted and then says, "It's not your fault." But they're all worth reading and processing and discussing, especially for high schoolers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the positive messages and role models in Shout. How does Halse Anderson encourage empathy, compassion, and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?

  • Speak is one of the most controversial and challenged books taught in schools. How does Shout help explain why Halse Anderson wrote it? Should any young-adult book ever be taken out of school libraries or require parental permission?

  • The author explains why so many survivors, like her fictional protagonist Melinda, think no one will believe their story about assault or abuse. Why are victims sometimes reluctant to break their silence? How does this book help them?

  • Parents and teens: Discuss the resources Halse Anderson shares in the back matter. Talk about the importance of reporting abuse -- to parents or other trusted adults.

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