Speak Book Poster Image

Speak

Controversial book about rape is powerful and painful.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

What parents need to know

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

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.

Violence

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.

Sex

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

Language

Moderate swearing typical of high-schoolers.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

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

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.

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?

QUALITY

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre:Coming of Age
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Puffin
Publication date:January 1, 1999
Number of pages:198

This review of Speak was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Ratings

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate.

Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

Top advice and articles

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

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. The risks involved involved in being a 13 year old girl at a drunken party with men was never addressed (such as the possibility of rape!).
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages
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 teeth the way everyone bashed Melinda for crashing that party. For one, drinking parties- ugh, been to one (that was unintended) stupid, stupid, STUPID children. And Melinda was getting more depressed each day while holding in this awful secret that made her feel so much shame. I was on this book like politicians are on money, I couldn't put the thing down! Later on I heard that Andy Evans actually didn't get arrested! They let him go! Ahhg I was so angry!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
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 in to find out more. The feelings and pain Melinda, the main character, shares with the reader is truly an experience. I watched the movie before the book because I didn't even know the book was out! But I loved the movie so much, I saw the book one day, bought it, and didn't put it down until it was finished. I read this when I was 14 I believe, and I would only recommend this book to ages 13+. DEFINITELY READ IT. :)