Speak. By Laurie Halse Anderson. (1999). Penguin Group USA. ISBN-10:0142414735.

Plot Summary

It’s Melinda’s first day of high school and she is already an outcast. Something awful happened over the summer that she just can’t speak about. Not to her mom, not to her best friend. Not even her best friend will speak to her. The trouble is, now everyone hates her for squealing at the party that horrible night. So she goes through high school uttering the minimal number of words possible. Things are understandably bleak until Melinda meets a kind art teacher.

Critical Evaluation

Laurie Halse Anderson creates a barren high school landscape with visceral language and a strangely silent protagonist. Cracking the book open to the first page, you simply won’t want to stop reading about Melinda, her strange teachers and so-called friends, and her family.

High school can be filled with unbearable pain, and Speak is one of the first novels to explain it so well. Laurie Halse Anderson has stated that her primary goal is, “to give teenagers a voice.” Speak was her first, and extremely successful, attempt at doing just that. Everyone can find a little bit of themselves, and their own high school experience, through Melinda.
Reader’s Annotation

Melinda has been branded an outcast after she calls the cops to break up the hugest party of the summer. Now she must get through her freshman year of high school and the only way she knows how is to just not speak.
About the Author

Laurie Halse Anderson was born on October 23, 1961 in Potsdam, New York. She started her career as a picture book writer and still enjoys writing them.

Laurie gets her ideas from characters she dreams up, usually a person trapped in an interesting situation, or facing a conflict that forces her to change and grow. With Speak, she could hear the character of a girl crying, but she didn’t know why this girl was hurting so much. This was the inspiration for Speak, as just like us, Halse Anderson had to know more about Melinda, to hear her voice.

Laurie is the recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award, for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”.  Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes, with her four children and her husband Scot, who happens to be her childhood sweetheart.


-Realistic Fiction

Curriculum Ties
-English Literature


*Laurie Halse Anderson’s website includes a teacher discussion board, information about Skyping with her in the classroom, as well as censorship assistance. http://madwomanintheforest.com/teachers/

Booktalking Ideas
-The High School Experience


– Dealing with secrets and difficult situations

Reading Level/Interest Age

Challenge Issues
Speak has been challenged in many school libraries and as part of school programs because it deals with a rape, (though it is not graphically depicted as it occurs in the past in the chronology of the novel,) and as a result, Speakloudly.org was created. “Speak Loudly is a group of teachers, librarians, bloggers, and authors who have come together to speak out against the censorship of media materials for teens. We’re a community of people raising their voices together(www.speakloudly.org/about).”

This book encourages teens to “speak up,” and hopefully also encourages teachers, parents, and other adults who live and work with teens, to listen. Many teens may have secrets or deal with difficult issues that they do not feel comfortable speaking about, and this novel not only recommends the use of art to express and work through that difficulty, but to open up. Readers will root for Melinda and be thrilled with her transformation by the end of the novel.

Why Did You Include This Book?

Speak was a National Book Award Finalist, a New York Times bestseller, and a Printz Honor book.

Best Books for Young Adults, 2000 ; American Library Association-YALSA; United States
Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 1999 ; American Library Association; United States
Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High, Fourteenth Edition, 2001 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Bulletin Blue Ribbons, 1999 ; Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books; United States
Capitol Choices, 1999 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children’s Literature Choice List, 2000 ; Children’s Literature; United States
Dealing with Alienation, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Horn Book Fanfare, 1999 ; Horn Book; United States
Lasting Connections, 1999 ; American Library Association; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Not Just for Children Anymore!, 2000 ; Children’s Book Council; United States
Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media, 1999 ; Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media, Inc.; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, September 1999 ; Cahners; United States
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 1999 ; American Library Association-YALSA; United States
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2000 ; American Library Association-YALSA; United States
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education; California
School Library Journal Best Books, 1999 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, October 1999 ; Cahners; United States
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007 ; The H. W. Wilson Co.; United States
Senior High School Library Catalog, Sixteenth Edition, 2002 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Senior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Fifteenth Edition, 2000 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Young Adults’ Choices, 2001 ; International Reading Association; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes: 

ABC Children’s Booksellers Choices Award, 2000 Winner Young Adult Readers United States
Carolyn W. Field Award, 2000 Winner Author United States
Edgar Allan Poe Award, 2000 Nominee Best Young Adult Novel United States
Evergreen Young Adult Book Award, 2002 Winner Washington
Garden State Teen Book Award, 2002 Winner Fiction (Gr. 9-12) New Jersey
Golden Kite Award, 2000 Award Book Fiction United States
Heartland Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, 2001 Winner United States
Kentucky Bluegrass Award, 2001 Winner Gr. 9-12 Kentucky
Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 1999 Finalist Young Adult Fiction United States
Michael L. Printz Award, 2000 Honor Book United States
Sequoyah Book Award, 2002 Winner Young Adult Oklahoma
Society of School Librarians International Book Awards, 2000 Honor Language Arts – Novels, Grades 7 – 12 United States
South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, 2002 Winner South Carolina
Volunteer State Book Award, 2003 Winner Grades 7-12 Vermont
State and Provincial Reading Lists: 

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Illinois
Arizona Young Readers’ Award, 2004 ; Nominee; Teen Books; Arizona
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, 2002-2003 ; Nominee; High School; Maryland
California Young Reader Medal, 2003 ; Nominee; Young Adult; California
Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Colorado
Evergreen Young Adult Book Award, 2002 ; Nominee; Washington
Maine Student Book Award, 2000-2001 ; Nominee; Maine
Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Grades 6-8; Minnesota
Nevada Young Readers’ Award, 2003 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Nevada
Rhode Island Teen Book Award, 2001 ; Nominee; High School Students; Rhode Island
Soaring Eagle Book Award, 2001-2002 ; Nominee; Grades 7-12; Wyoming
Tayshas High School Reading List, 2000-2001 ; Young Adult; Texas
Volunteer State Book Award, 2001-2002 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Tennessee
Young Adult Reading Program, 2001 ; Grades 7-12; South Dakota

About thesuperlibrarian

High School Librarian and obsessive reader! On a mission to read as many SUPER YA books as possible!
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