Literature: Speak

"It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache."

The novelization of a Heroic BSOD.

Speak is an award-winning contemporary YA novel written in 1999 by Laurie Halse Anderson, an author famous for writing books of this sort. The book has been the source of some vocal Moral Guardians over the years due to some of its subject matter.

The book centers around a teenager named Melinda Sordino, who's just entered the 9th grade. She's not exactly the most popular kid in school, due almost entirely to her calling the police at a Wild Teen Party last summer.

After the events of said party, Melinda goes from a bright, outgoing, friendly teenager to a bitter, angry, depressed one. Her grades go down the toilet, her parents are alarmed, and Melinda can't find the words to tell anyone what really happened; eventually, she stops speaking almost entirely. The plot mostly centers around Melinda's gradual decline, up until The Reveal, and then her gradual climb out of the hole.

The Film of the Book was released in 2004, starring a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart in the lead role.

Speak provides examples of:

  • Academic Alpha Bitch: The Marthas, a clique of girls that spend their time doing volunteer projects and gossiping about Andy Evans.
  • Alliterative Name: Three of the school's cheerleaders are named Ashley, Aubrey, and Amber.
    • Also, there's cheerleaders Jennie, Jen, and Jenna.
  • And I Must Scream: As Melinda is being raped by Andy, she is internally screaming but is too drunk to say anything.
  • Arc Symbol: The trees Melinda draws and sculpts in art class serve to reflect her emotional growth throughout the story. At the beginning, she can't figure out how to draw it in a way that she likes, when she's at the beginning of her internal Heroic BSOD. As she develops through art class with Mr. Freeman, she experiments with new mediums, eventually coming up with a sketch of a Cubist tree that he praises. During the mall scene, Ivy gives her pointers on how to sketch one, while at the same time boosting Melinda's confidence with a You Are Better Than You Think You Are speech. At the end, she is able to draw a tree that's like her — not perfect, but deeply meaningful through its flaws and in the realistic way it is sketched.
  • Attempted Rape: Andy Evans tries to rape Melinda in her broom closet at the climax.
  • Attention Whore: How Melinda's parents interpret her vow of silence.
  • Bad Samaritan: Heather. It's also implied that Melinda's former friends (minus Ivy, who is still fairly friendly towards her after the incident) were this as well.
  • Bathroom Stall Graffiti: Melinda notices this in a stall, particularly a topic called "guys to stay away from". She writes Andy Evans' name there, and it turns out that she's not the only girl he's harassed.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Sure, Melinda saved herself from Attempted Rape by scaring the daylights out of Andy Evans and holding a piece of glass to his throat, but then the entire girls' field hockey team broke down the door with their field hockey sticks when they heard a commotion.
  • Big "NO!": Melinda unleashes one when in the climax when Andy tries to rape her in the janitor's closet.
    • In the movie, she releases oh so many of them during the rape scene.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Melinda doesn't completely overcome her trauma or poor school performance, but she manages to save Rachel from a similar fate and fights off Andy Evans from trying to rape her again in the school closet, exposing him as a predator. She also finally draws a satisfying tree for art class, and opens up to Mr. Freeman about what happened.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Melinda tells Rachel what happened to her. Notable in that Rachel does believe her—until she tells Rachel the culprit.
    • Although Rachel eventually realizes Melinda is telling the truth and breaks up with Andy.
  • Catch Phrase: Only used a couple of times, but Melinda's "Gracias a dios. Hasta luego."
  • Chained to a Railway: One of the questions on Melinda's aptitude test deals with this.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The turkey bone sculpture. When Andy attempts to rape Melinda at the end, Hand Over Mouth to stop her from screaming, she smashes the turkey bone sculpture into a mirror, shattering the glass and pressing a shard to this throat. This buys enough time for the girls' hockey team to break down the locked closet door and call for help.
  • Cool Teacher: Mr. Freeman.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Despite the fact that she's in the throes of depression, Melinda.
  • Deconstruction: This is basically a live-action realistic version of Daria, showing how a character like that would exist. And boy is it not pretty.
  • Dull Surprise: Melinda's narration in the film is saturated with these, but for good or ill, Kristen Stewart does use it effectively.
  • Easily Forgiven: Averted, for most of the characters who haven't treated Melinda well. Andy Evans, the boy who raped her gets no forgiveness. Rachel, Melinda's former best friend, blames her for calling the police, dumps her for the exchange student posse, and yells at her when saying that Andy Evans raped her. After learning the truth, Rachel wants Melinda to call her at the end of the book, but it's not clear if their friendship is mended.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Melinda has Heather for a little while, but then she gets friend-dumped.
  • The Eeyore: Melinda.
  • Eye Scream: In the climax of the film, Melinda is able to blind Andy in the fight by pouring something (likely cleaning product) into his eyes.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Andy seems nice but is an unrepentant monster underneath. One scene even has him stand up for and defend Melinda to protect his image.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • A very subtle example: Melinda becomes attached to a poster of Maya Angelou. Maya was raped as a young girl. It's also a stealth reference to Angelou's novel, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
    • There's quite a bit of subtle foreshadowing, but it can be hard to spot until you've read the book more than once, like the turkey bone art.
  • Former Friend of Alpha Bitch: Melinda to Rachel. Though Rachel becomes less of a bitch when she realizes Melinda was telling the truth.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In-universe; seriously, who was in charge of reading over the cheers before they went public?note 
  • Good Samaritan: David and Ivy. They're both very nice to Melinda, and by the end she's friends with them.
  • Handsome Lech: Andy Evans. According to the graffiti messages in the bathroom, he basically feels up anything with two X chromosomes. This becomes a very dark example when it's revealed he raped Melinda at the party.
  • Heroic BSOD: Melinda spends most of the book trapped in one, and doesn't shake out of it until late in the story.
  • Heroic Bystander: Nicole, during The Climax.
  • Hippie Teacher: Mr. Freeman.
  • Idiot Ball: Anyone who actually saw Melinda make the call at the party. A clearly scared girl with a disheveled look, calling the cops at a party which includes booze and a relatively wide age-gap of party-goers. No one seems to come to the conclusion that something might have happened to this girl. The movie is worse, showing her top defiled and partially open. Justified in that Teens Are Monsters and fairly self-absorbed.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Heather and Melinda. Unfortunately, Heather is much less nice about it and basically drops Melinda like a hot potato as soon as a clique shows some interest in taking her in.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Mr. Freeman and Melinda. He's the only teacher willing to help her in and out of school.
  • Jerk Jock: Andy Evans may be good-looking, but he's really a creep. A couple of times in the book and the movie, he gets uncomfortably close to Melinda and tries acting like a nice guy. Though maybe the reason behind the personal space invasion is a reminder that he raped her and he loves seeing her be scared of him.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Neck is a complete dick for most of the story and treats his students with absolute contempt and sadism. But he is mostly pissed because he feels his son is being overlooked. There is also the end when he seems genuinely concerned for Melinda's well-being after making her life a misery.
  • Karma Houdini: Partially. In Catalyst, which takes place a year after Speak and deals with another student at Melinda's high school, it is revealed that Andy was found guilty of his crime, but ended up not going to jail. Sadly, this is Truth in Television when it comes to many high school rapists.
  • Kick the Dog: Heather's "Thanks for letting me move on to more popular friends!" Valentine. What's worse is that Melinda thought it was a genuine one. Ouch.
    • There is also Andy making crude remarks towards Melinda in the hallway. To most people, it looks like him being a Jerk Jock. But knowing what he did...
  • Lethal Chef: Melinda's father is implied to be one, based on the disaster with the turkey. (Her mother isn't much better. She tries to boil it.)
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Melinda's last name, "Sordino", can be interpreted in various ways to mean "mute".
    • Mr. Freeman, the art teacher. We shouldn't even have to explain that one.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: All of Melinda's former friends once she starts opening up about the rape, and more so once Andy nearly rapes her again. Rachel briefly has this reaction but when Melinda tells her who did it, she refuses to believe her.
  • Nice Guy: David, Melinda's lab partner, is the only other person besides Mr. Freeman to treat Melinda with genuine kindness, even inviting her to come to a party. He also stands up against Mr. Neck when the latter goes off on a xenophobic rant in the middle of class.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Melinda only tells Rachel that Andy Evans raped her because Rachel is dating the jerk, and could become his next victim. Rachel refuses to believe her, but when she gets uncomfortable with his hot and heavy behavior towards her at the prom dance, Rachel breaks up with him while loudly accusing him of being a predator. This leads to Andy assaulting Melinda in the climax, directly making it Rachel's fault.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Melinda's description of the rape is extremely vague, which not only adds depth to it but also makes it quite terrifying once Fridge Horror is implemented.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Andy pulls one of these on Melinda during The Climax, right before trying to rape her again.
  • Pet the Dog: Mr. Neck, a complete and utter bastard to Melinda for the entire story, showing genuine concern for her at the end of the movie and calling her by her first name.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Jesus. Melinda's classmates. Heather jumping ship on her. Those kids at the pep rally. And Andy, the monster who started everything.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Melinda delivers one to Heather after Heather tries to get her to help with prom decorations even though she told Melinda they shouldn't be friends anymore.