by Laurie Halse Anderson
I have never been so tempted to turn to the end and find out early what happened in a book. Because Speak is all about the impact one traumatic incident at a party had on a teenager's entire year in high school. Not knowing the whole story, the other students hate or ostracize her. She's riddled with guilt to the point of feeling physically ill and fear and confusion sit on her so heavy she cannot bring herself to talk to anyone: parents, teachers, friends. The self-incriminating, melodramatic inner dialog brought to mind Catcher in the Rye, and something about it made me think of The Outsiders, as well. Of all the books I've read, this is one of the most realistic (and bitterly humorous) pictures of what high school is like. Attitudes of teachers and students, cliques and popularity struggles, how pointless it all can seem. Some passages like this one just made me laugh:
Mr. Stetman won't give up. He is determined to prove once and for all that algebra is something we will use the rest of our lives. If he succeeds, I think they should give him the Teacher of the Century Award and a two-week vacation in Hawaii, all expenses paid.
He comes to class each day with a new Real-Life Application... Today's Application has something to do with buying guppies at the pet store, and calculating how many guppies you could breed if you wanted to go into the guppie business. Once the guppies turn into x's and y's, my contacts fog. Class ends in a debate between the animal-rights activists, who say it is immoral to own fish, and the red-blooded capitalists, who know lots of better ways to make money than investing in fish that eat their young. I watch the snow falling outside.
I thoroughly recommend this book. It's funny, sad, attention-grabbing (translation: I couldn't put it down) and short enough that no matter how tempting, you can make it all the way to the revelation at the end without peeking.
Rating: 4/5 Published: 1999, pp 195
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