Speak: The Graphic Novel

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Speak: The Graphic Novel Book Poster Image
Hard-hitting tale of sexual assault and its aftermath.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational value

Realistically depicts how a young teen girl might react to being sexually assaulted. It presents an opportunity to discuss bullying, harassment, and the therapeutic value of art.

Positive messages

It's possible to break the silence around sexual assault and speak the truth about perpetrators and their victims.

Positive role models & representations

Melinda fights against the knowledge that she was raped and turns inward, keeping quiet at school and at home. Gradually, however, she's able to reclaim her sense of self and finds the strength to speak out before someone else becomes a victim.

Violence

The scenes depicting the assault are expressionistic, showing Melinda's interpretation of the act rather than its reality. They include panels showing hands touching a girl's breasts and buttocks. Another encounter at the end of the book focuses on how Melinda is able to fight back. The buildup to both scenes is enough to insure that sensitive readers won't be taken by surprise.

Sex

Melinda says that the Merryweather cheerleaders sleep with the football players after the game, which may or may not be true.

Language

Mild swearing typical of teens, with one or two uses of "bitch," "bulls--t," "hell," and "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Thirteen-year-old Melinda and her friends get drunk on beer at a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Speak is a graphic novel adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, with art by Emily Carroll. It tells the story of 13-year-old Melinda, who was raped at an end-of-summer party and feels she can tell no one about it as she begins her freshman year.Two key scenes feature violence, but they are expressionistic, and most readers will be prepared for them. Swearing is mild and infrequent, with one or two instances each of "bitch," "hell," "damn," and "bulls--t." Sexual content is limited to innuendo about the school's cheerleaders. Underage teens drink beer and get drunk at a party.

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What's the story?

Having called the police at an end-of-summer party, Melinda finds herself an outcast as she starts her freshman year at Merryweather High at the beginning of SPEAK: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL. Her former best friend won't talk with her, the teachers seem to deliberately misunderstand her, and she's bullied and harassed by her schoolmates. What no one except Melinda knows is that she was raped by an upperclassman. Unable to speak the truth about the assault, Melinda tries to keep quiet, growing more depressed and alienated from her parents, her teachers, and her fellow students. What will it take for her to shout a warning to those who need to hear it most?

Is it any good?

Treating a sensitive subject with grace, skill, and compassion, this often dark exploration of sexual assault and its aftermath does the issue justice. Originally a novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and now adapted with art by Emily Carroll, Speak: The Graphic Novel captures the drama, drudgery, and absurdity of high school, without losing sight of the mental anguish that can be inflicted on vulnerable teens. Carroll's expressionistic black-and-white drawings reflect the perceptions of the protagonist, whose interior monologues drive the action of the plot. Speak makes clear that what happened to Melinda was not her fault and that she has the strength to confront her assailant and reclaim her sense of self. This graphic novel is especially relevant as a release amid the #MeToo movement.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Speak depicts the aftermath of a young teen's rape by an older high school student. What kinds of assistance do victims of sexual assault need? What might prevent them from getting the help they need?

  • How does art help people deal with their emotions and express their feelings?

  • Melinda thinks no one will believe her about the assault. Why are victims sometimes reluctant to go to the police and press charges?

Book details

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