High school has very defined social rules. Most of them are comical. People divide into cliques that all have absurd dress codes and behavior expectations. Everyone is supposed to be incredibly enthusiastic about the school’s crappy sports teams and the mascot that seems to change every other day. Melinda can see the absurdity of the high school social environment because she is an outsider. She has no clique. She has no friends. The people who used to be her friends will barely even look at her after what happened at the party over the summer. It had been Melinda who called 911, but not because of the drinking. She called because of what happened to her outside, that no one knows about except her and the boy she now thinks of as “It.” Melinda has not told anyone what happened; she doesn’t say much of anything anymore. Her grades are slipping, attempts at friendship failing, and even the desire to have friends seems to be slipping away. Only something about art class still seems compelling to her, though she isn’t much of an artist. As her parents and teachers get increasingly frustrated and concerned, Melinda struggles to navigate the rules of high school and to find a way to express what happened over the summer.
Melinda is a wonderful narrator. Her observations about the high school world are snarky and 100% accurate. You may not expect to laugh at a book with as heavy subject matter as this one, but Speak is about more than just rape. This incredibly well-written and nuanced novel will be accessible to anyone who is or has ever been in high school, and Melinda’s journey toward finding her voice is a powerful one. The subject matter is heavy (though not graphic) and may be upsetting to some readers, so use your judgment. But this is one of my favorites–possibly because Melinda and I have a very similar sense of humor and reaction to high school.