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Book review by
Norah Caroline Piehl, Common Sense Media
Speak Book Poster Image
Controversial book about rape is powerful and painful.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 27 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 114 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

This National Book Award finalist will grip teen readers -- and can open up a number of discussions, from dealing with clique politics to surviving rape. Parents and teachers may want to check out a guide for delving more deeply into the plot.

Positive Messages

Melinda's pain and ultimate hope for healing is described honestly and compassionately.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character, Melinda, cuts class, steals passes from teachers, and deliberately cuts herself. But the author offers real solutions to Melinda's pain: Melinda's connection to a mentor, her artistic creations, and even her plans for a flower garden all feed her inner strength. When she's finally able to speak, readers will rejoice in her triumph.


Melinda is raped. She recalls her rape, and is threatened by her rapist. She defends herself against an attacker by scaring him with a shard of glass.


The narrator refers to cheerleaders sleeping with football players, and to high school girls having abortions.


Moderate swearing typical of high-schoolers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Thirteen-year-old Melinda and her friends drink at a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this National Book Award finalist is about a girl traumatized by a rape (and is then isolated from her peers). Wounded, silent Melinda ditches class, steals passes from teachers, and deliberately cuts herself. Accurate descriptions of the minutiae of high school will appeal to any teen who has felt like an outsider, and when Melinda is finally able to speak, readers will rejoice in her triumphs. This is a gritty, powerful book that teachers and parents could use to launch a number of discussions.  Readers must meld short descriptive passages to form the narrative.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 7 year old Written bySIMZ December 1, 2009

Off for all ages.

This book had very descriptive sexual scenes and many more sexual remarks and comments. It was a very negative book - although it ended in a very positive way.... Continue reading
Adult Written byBoulderParent April 3, 2013

Seemed inappropriate as a 'must-read' in middle school.

The fact that this book was written in response to a dream that a book author had, distorts the 'realistic' events and circumstances creating a platfo... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byDarkMidnight January 29, 2011

These pages must be lined with gold, I couldn't stop reading!

Man, I just love this book! I would recomend it for ages 13 and over, but 12 year olds (depending on how mature they are) can read it too. It made me grind my t... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byhtswimmer April 12, 2011

One of those books...

This is one of those books I just couldn't put down. I have read other good ones, but this one I stayed up late in the night just to get that one chapter i... Continue reading

What's the story?

High school should be the best time of Melinda's life. Instead, freshman year is a nightmare as Melinda finds herself rejected by her friends, cut off from her parents, and unable to reveal a terrible secret. In fact, she isn't speaking at all. Melinda's slow healing process is a realistic and compelling one, and readers will cheer for her when she finally does use her voice.

Is it any good?

This is one of the most devastatingly true and painful portrayals of high school to come along in a long time. The cliques, from the Jocks to the Big Hair Chix to the Marthas (devotees of a certain Ms. Stewart), are pigeonholed to perfection. Outsider Melinda seems somehow familiar, too. Her witty, ironic commentaries can't cover up her pain at being excluded.

Kids who are genuine outsiders stand to gain a lot from this compassionate novel. The author offers real solutions to Melinda's pain: Melinda's connection to a mentor, her artistic creations, and even her plans for a flower garden all feed her inner strength. When she's finally able to speak, readers will rejoice in her triumphs.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how this book has received lots of praise and is taught in classrooms, from eighth grade on up. But its controversial subject matter has also made it a target of censors. What do you think? Is it too intense for teens? In your opinion, should any book ever be banned or require parental permission?

  • Speak was a finalist for the National Book Awards, a very prestigious award given out each year. Looking at the list of previous year's young adult winners, are there any other titles you'd like to read? Does it make any difference to you if a book has been selected for an award?

Book details

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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