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Reader Response

April 24, 2017

Dear Readers,

Laurie Halse Andersons novel, Speak, brings readers on a journey of self-acceptance through

the eyes of a broken teenage girl. I would give this book an 8 rating on a 10 point scale. This book

seemed heavy to me. The topics are tough to hurtle and since Melinda is a pretty relatable character,

it was difficult for me to be put inside of her head and not be able to do anything about it. Andersons

writing is effective in a way that I felt true empathy for the main character. I believe the authors

messagethe importance of voice-- is portrayed beautifully through Melindas narrative, and that all

young adolescents should be more aware of her struggles.

The main character, Melinda Sordino, hates Merryweather High School. She is isolated. Her

parents do not understand her and are never around. What makes Melindas story so interesting is that

she has a secret. As readers, we can tell that Melinda is damagedsomething bad happened to her, but

what? Melinda is unique in the fact that she wants nothing to do with the social climbing mindset of

everyone in her high school, even her only friend Heather, wants to gain popularity. On the other hand,

Melinda wants to be secludedand that is exactly what she does to herself. I like how Anderson

deliberately presents the text in short broken-up paragraphs. I think that this helps me understand that

Melinda is narrating her thoughts. The broken phrases and quick subject changes allow readers to feel

in tune with Melindas head.

Unable to comprehend her feelings or speak her mind to others, Melinda uses self-sabotage

lip biting, seclusion, nail pulling--as her coping strategies. At times, I struggled with the darkness of

Melindas mind. As I progressed through the novel, I wanted to jump into the book and give Melinda
the advice and courage that she needed in order to come forward about her secretshe was raped by a

senior boy at a party over the summer. I believe I felt this way because of the connections I was able to

make with a close friend of mine and Melindas character. Self-harm is a serious issue that should be

addressed in all schools. Being aware of the power of our own words and how they affect others is

imperative as young adolescents. Anderson is able to effectively show readers the power of voice by

letting them first understand the frustrations of not speaking ones mind.

The only place Melinda is able to find peace is her art class where she is working on a year-long

project. The project guides Melinda into creating several variations of a tree. I noticed how the author

creates a parallel between the progression of Melindas art project and her development of self-

acceptance. As Melinda slowly relives her experiences, she also begins to face her inner demons. We

can see this as Mr. Freeman, the art teacher, coaches Melinda through the creation of her tree project.

For example:

Mr. Freeman: Art without emotion is like chocolate cake without sugar. It makes you

gag. He sticks his finger down his throat. The next time you work on your trees, dont think

about trees. Think about love, or hate, or joy, or ragewhatever makes you feel something,

makes your palms sweat or your toes curl. Focus on that feeling. When people dont express

themselves, they die one piece at a time. Youd be shocked at how many adults are really dead

insidewalking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or

cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. Its the saddest thing I know.

He pulls off the exit and stops at the light at the bottom of the ramp. Something small

and furry and dead is crumpled by the storm sewer. I chew off a scab on my thumb. The Efferts

sign blinks in the middle of the block. Over there, I say. You can drop me off in front. We sit

for a moment, the snow hiding the other side of the street, a cello solo thrumming from the
speakers. Um, thanks, I say. Dont mention it, he answers. If you ever need to talk, you know

where to find me. I unbuckle the seat belt and open the door.

Melinda, Mr. Freeman says. Snow filters into the car and melts on the dashboard.

Youre a good kid. I think you have a lot to say. Id like to hear it.

I close the door (122-123).

I think that Andersons dialogue is genuine and portrayed perfectly through the eyes of a

troubled teenage girl. Melindas mentorship with Mr. Freeman is really the only strong relationship that

she has. The passage above allows us to see that Mr. Freeman is attempting to teach Melinda how to

use artwork as an outlet for her overwhelming emotion.

This novel reminded me of 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher in the sense that the main characters in

both of the books have been victims of sexual assault, bullying, and struggle with self-acceptance. Asher

portrays Hannah Baker as a troubled teenage girl who is disconnected from her family and lacks close

friendships in school. Similar to Hannah, Melinda is misunderstood by her teachers, parents, and

guidance counselor simply because she is unable to voice her troubles to them. Prior to the start of her

freshman year, Melinda was sexually assaulted at a party by Andy Evansa popular boy from her school

who she now refers to as IT. The events following Melindas assault left all of her friends to turn

against her. Melinda uses frequent episodes of self-harm as her only outlet to release her bottled up

emotions.

I empathize with Melinda after she has fallen mute. It hurt me inside to understand Melindas

feeling of isolationthat nobody understands her. I also understand that Melinda was embarrassed

about the events that lead to everyone in the school hating hershe felt shameful, as if she deserved

what happened to her. On Valentine s Day Melinda expresses her negative emotion towards the

stupid holiday. She feels lonely, and deep down, Melinda wishes she had someone to share love with;
however, she would never admit to that to anyone. This train of thought leads Melinda to pulling her

fingernails: I pull the edge of my thumbnail back too far and it bleeds. I squeeze my thumb so the blood

gathers in a perfect sphere before it collapses and slides toward the cut. The white cells of paper

dissolve as the red floods them. It doesnt hurt. Nothing hurts except the small smiles and blushes that

flash across the room like tiny sparrows (109). Through self-harm, Melinda is subconsciously searching

for someone to listen to her. The more she bottles up her feelings, the more difficult it is for her to

accept herself and avoid isolation.

Laurie Halse Anderson uses the metaphor of ice in Melinda's throat to represent her inability to

speak. At the very end of the novel Melinda has one last encounter with Andy Evans. Andy's girlfriend,

Rachel broke up with him at prom after hearing that he raped Melinda. Enraged, he confronts Melinda

about it. Andy attacks Melinda in the art room and not only tries to sexually assault her again, but

physically harms her as well. As Melinda sorts through her battles of self-acceptance and finding her

voice, we are able to see a drastic development of her character. Anderson uses beautiful figurative

language to describe Melindas realizations:

The tears dissolve the last block of ice in my throat. I feel the frozen stillness melt down

through the inside of me, dripping shards of ice that vanish in a puddle of sunlight on the stained

floor. Words float up.

Me: Let me tell you about it (198).

This final passage emphasizes Melindas freedom from her abusers. All in all, I believe that

Laurie Halse Andersons novel, Speak, is a powerful and realistic depiction of an issue that many

teenagers face on a regular basis. I would recommend this book to any eighth grader who would like to

have a better insight on issues of bullying, abuse, self-harm, as well as self-acceptance.


Close Reading

The Art of Forgetting

I will not forget you.


Would I like to forget you? Or what you did to me?
Perhaps. But I will not.
Do not. Cannot. Have not.

I do not forget you.


Certain places, touches, people
Remind me of you, of us, of that fateful day.
I did not forget you.

I have not forgotten you.


I cannot be near a farm without a memory
Invading my mind and my heart.
I cannot eat or smell a mushroom without flashbacks flooding through my head.
You put them there.

I cannot forget you.


I did not choose promiscuity, abusive relationships, or self-harm.
You chose them for me.
I did not choose to give it all away to some devilish boy cooing in my ear,
"I love you, Sarah."
But that was my new normal.

It is not normal.
And it is not now.

I once had hoped to forget you.


To block out the pain associated with your name.
I did not want anything to do with you.
I did not want to believe you hurt me.
I did not want to deal with the mess you left behind
While you gave into your own selfish impulses.

Now I do not choose to forget you.


I allow myself to feel the hurt when I need to.
I allow myself to mourn the loss of my innocence.
I allow myself to acknowledge that I am not completely "moved on"
And I let you be my motivation to help others.

I do not have to forget you.


I chose a life for myself in order to deal with it
Feminism, activism, writing.
And frankly,
That is quite okay with me.

Frances, Sarah. "The Art of Forgetting by Sarah Frances." Hello Poetry. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

There are several key ideas presented in this poem. I am able to assume that the author of this

particular piece of poetry has been a victim to an unsolicited sexual or physical assault. The poem shares

a message of coping and finding strength after a traumatic event. The narrator explains that most

aspects of her life remind her of what happened to her. These memories continuously lead her back to

an event that she is unable to forgetsimilar to Melindas experiences. The author explains I did not

choose promiscuity, abusive relationships or self-harm. You chose them for me. I am able to describe

connections between the lines of this poem and Melindas experiences at the party she attended over

the summer. Melinda reflects on her painful encounter with Andy: My lips mumble something about

leaving, about a friend who needs me, about my parents worrying. I can hear myselfIm mumbling like

a deranged drunk" (135). By referring to herself as a "deranged drunk" readers are given insight on the

fact that Melinda is placing blame on herself. The manipulative games that Andy plays on Melinda

throughout the novel are a reason why she has fallen mute. "In my head, my voice is as clear as a bell:

'NO I DON'T WANT TO!' But I can't spit it out" (135). This traumatic experience is something that neither

Melinda nor the author of this particular poem had chosen. The trauma left from the aftermath of an

assault has left both narrators to lean toward outlets of self-harm and hatred. After studying this

particular poem, I am able to better understand that it is important to find healthy outlets to relieve the

pain of sexual assault. For the author of this poem, it is Feminism, activism, writing. For Melinda, it

was her year-long art project. Regardless of the outlet, both authors successfully enable readers to

better understand the mental, physical, and emotional pain that can be caused by such an event.
Both texts are told from a first person point of view. This allows readers to become a part of the

narrators thought processes. Sarah, the narrator of the poem is angry with what someone has done to

her. She expresses that her innocence was taken from herallowing readers to make inferences that

her assault was sexual. Instead of blocking out her pain, Sarah chooses to embrace what had been done

to her. This is the opposite of Melindas actions. Throughout the novel, Melinda falls mute in the

aftermath of her assault. By bottling up her emotions, Melindas actions lead to self-harm. It is clear

that the author of the poem is angryher words are spiteful and suggest a yearning for some sort of

revengeas do Melindas. My point of view on this topic is very similar to the authors. Although I

have never personally been a victim to any type of assault, I am able to connect with the topic through

my close friends experiences, and what I had to do to aid her in the coping process. Towards the end of

the poem, we see that Sarahs views on the topic become even stronger. She no longer feels worthless

or scared and is able to transmit her frustrations into writing and activism. Melinda is able to express

her emotions and find interest in several aspects of her life once she begins to accept what happened to

her. Towards the end of the novel, and as she wraps up her final art project, she expresses: Im on a

roll. Im rocking. I dont know what it is; standing up to Heather, planting marigold seeds, or maybe the

look on Moms face when I asked if she would let me redecorate my room. The time has come to arm-

wrestle some demons. Too much sun after a Syracuse winter does strange things to your head, makes

you feel strong, even if you arent (180). Similar to Sarahs poem, this excerpt from the novel

emphasizes Melinda's self-doubt. Although she is indeed, very strong, Melinda does not believe it yet.

This selection connects to the theme of Speakthe power of voicethrough Sarahs realization

that she does not have to repress her feelings in order to come to terms with her assault. At the

beginning of the poem, Sarah states: Would I like to forget you? Or what you did to me? Perhaps. But I

will not. Do not. Cannot. Have not. She is able to understand that what happened to her is not her

fault, and that in order to live through her emotional struggles, she must accept what has happened
rather than try to forget it. Towards the end of the novel, Melinda also chooses to speak up about her

traumatic experiences. The reader can infer that after her second encounter with Andy, she finally

chooses to tell Mr. Freeman what has been going on in her life--hopefully, using art as an outlet to

express these emotions. Sarah explains: I do not have to forget you. I chose a life for myself in order to

deal with it and I believe this is very similar to what Melinda is experiencing at the end of the novel.

Critical Literacy
In the novel, Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson utilizes specific character development, language,

and thought processes from a troubled freshman girl, Melinda, to give readers a better understanding of

the effects of bullying, assault, and communicating in the high school world. Melinda's character

development throughout the novel is like night and day.

After falling mute at the start of her freshman year of high school, she takes us on a journey of

self-discovery. Once Melinda is able to come to terms with her insecurities we are able to truly

understand her emotional growth from the start of the novel. This can be seen through the comparison

of Melindas thoughts from the start to the end of her story. For example at the beginning of the novel,

it is clear that Melinda is struggling with coming to terms with what happened: I know my head isnt

screwed on straight. I want to leave, transfer, warp myself to another galaxy. I want to confess

everything, hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to someone else. There is a beast in my gut, I can

hear it scraping away at the inside of my ribs. Even if I dump the memory, it will stay with me, staining

me. My closet is a good thing, a quiet place that helps me hold these thoughts inside my head where no

one can hear them. Melinda learns to set her doubts free after turning in her final art project. At the

very end of the novel, Melinda explains: "Andy Evans raped me in August when I was drunk and too

young to know what was happening. It wasnt my fault. He hurt me. It wasnt my fault. And Im not

going to let it kill me. I can grow." The contrast between these two quotes emphasize Melindas
character development and Andersons theme on the power of voice. Now, if the theme were the

power of silence, readers would have an entirely different perspective on Melinda and her character

traits. Instead of understanding that bottling up emotion is unhealthyespecially when coping with

trauma, Anderson would be sending a message to young readers that their problems are not worth

speaking up aboutan unsafe message to send to teens. Although Melinda chooses not to speak most

of the time, her narrative voice is the most prominent in the novel. As readers, we are not given much

insight on what Melindas parents think about her silence beside the fact that they seem concerned

when they are contacted by the school; thus, adults voices in Speak are greatly marginalized. Anderson

chose to not report this information simply to give readers a focus on Melindas thoughts and Melindas

thoughts only. I believe the focus on Melindas inner thought processes also make her more relatable to

young adolescents and teenagers. If the guardians and authority figures in the novel had more of a

voice present throughout the plot, readers would not truly understand Melinda's inner struggle. The

voices of men are also marginalized in Andersons novel. Anderson depicts the manipulative mindset of

men like Andy through his behavior towards Melinda. Due to his actions, Melinda is left feeling guilty,

bullied, and afraid of her own mind. Victims of sexual assault are often times left feeling as if their

encounter was their fault, or "the price they paid." Naturally, and in general, men are physically superior

to women. It is evident that if gender roles were switched in this novels the events that took place

would have been completely different. All in all, by examining specific elements of the novel such as

character development, gender, and voice readers are able to better understand Anderson's

representation of the power of voice.

Wrap Up
Examining a text through different lenses allows readers to better understand the author's

message. I particularly enjoyed the "Reader Response" approach the most. For young adolescents, I

believe that a letter essay is a personal approach to a formal-type analysis, allowing students to make
personal connections with the text; thus, aiding in comprehension and knowledge retention on a

particular theme. I also like the idea of using specific passages from the text to support an argument or

observation being presented. This type of reflection is conversational; thus, making it more challenging

for me to truly have a focus on an argument. Analyzing a text through a "Close Reading" approach is

beneficial to students in a sense that it enables them to make connections across multiple types of texts.

Allowing students to locate a poem, piece of fiction, or article that supports the same theme presented

in the novel being studied assess their knowledge on the author's message. I like the idea of using

mentor text to support a thesis; therefore, I think this is a very useful approach to text analysis. Using a

shorter text such as a poem to form inferences and comparisons allowed me to truly understand the

focus of my argument. The "Critical Literacy" approach was the most difficult for me to accomplish

when analyzing Speak. Since this approach is structured and supported more closely to a formal essay, I

would be sure to use this in an older classroomprobably eighth grade. I do like the idea of "switching

roles" or aspects of the novel to better understand the author's purpose. All three approaches easily

guide students in forming connections with their personal lives, mentor text, and societal norms such as

gender stereotypes. I believe that these three approaches give a fresh insight on uncovering meaning in

a text.