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

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 27 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 145 reviews

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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 Written byChrysa C. August 5, 2016

Expressions of PTSD

I do not understand why many reviewers have marked this novel as "too much sex" or "too much swearing." In fact, there was very limited bad... Continue reading
Adult Written bylindateaches July 2, 2010

Great convfersation starter for sensitive teen/young adult issues

If we do not talk about the frightening events that can be a part of the middle to high school years, our teens will not be prepared to handle them. The "... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byVioletGranger April 21, 2021

A well-written book about important issues that need to be addressed

Some might find this book hard to read - or they might feel awkward or uncomfortable while reading it. Melinda's story is based on what the author had gone... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byElaineofgreengables March 20, 2021

Sad but a important book

This book is one with lots of emotions. Lots of people even in the reviews her where saying it’s sexual but in this day it’s important for people to know these... 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 Speak 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. Do you think it's too intense for teens? Should any book ever be banned or require parental permission?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age books and stories that deal with consent

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