Without the love of books the richest man is poor, but endowed with this treasure the poorest man is rich. –Leon Gutterman

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Speak--A Book & Movie Review

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

"When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time."
— Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak)

On one of those random strokes of chance I ran across a trailer for Speak (2004) and it caught my attention. I dug a little and sure enough there was a book written first. I always hate to see a movie before I read the book because, as a rule the movies never get the story right and I end up with a visual in my head that affects my reading of the story. So I hit the library website and ordered the novel, Laurie Halse Anderson's first.

I read it in two sittings.

(I could have read it in one, but you see, there are these short people, they keep calling me, "Mom" and demanding food and attention...I digress...)

Freshman, Melinda Sordino, narrates her way through Merryweather High as a social outcast. High school is bad enough to try to navigate, but Melinda is taunted by those who were her closest friends in eighth grade. She is haunted by the party she attended with those former friends just a few months prior. A party that was ended because she called the cops.

"It's easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say. "
— Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak)

Talking become more and more difficult to the point where Melinda shuts down and doesn't speak at all. Her once above average grades nosedive and her attendance becomes erratic.


I cut class, you cut class, he, she, it cuts class. We cut class, they cut class. We all cut class. I cannot say this in Spanish because I did not go to Spanish today. Gracias a dios. Hasta luego."
— Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak)

The only class she doesn't ditch on a regular basis is art, where the unique Mr. Freeman rails against "the system." Mr. Freeman offers art as "the only class that will teach you how to survive." Each student is assigned a subject for the whole year to explore. Melinda's subject is "Tree."

Melinda's parents are so involved in trying to keep themselves moving forward that they fail to notice Melinda's slow withdrawal until grade cards arrive. They make clumsy attempts to reach her, but it is not enough.

Anderson captures the tone I remember from high school, she paints the picture of clans and cliques and examines the difficulty of navigating the jungle of the high school halls. The tone is ironic, sad and entirely quotable.


1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress code will be enforced.
4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
5. Our football team will win the championship this year.
6. We expect more of you here.
7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.
8. Your schedule was created with you in mind.
9. Your locker combination is private.
10. These will be the years you look back on fondly.


1. You will use algebra in your adult lives.
2. Driving to school is a privilege that can be taken away.
3. Students must stay on campus during lunch.
4. The new text books will arrive any day now.
5. Colleges care more about you than your SAT scores.
6. We are enforcing the dress code.
7. We will figure out how to turn off the heat soon.
8. Our bus drivers are highly trained professionals.
9. There is nothing wrong with summer school.
10. We want to hear what you have to say."
— Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak)

Once done with the book, I had my husband put Speak in the Netflix queue, wondering just how well a movie could capture this poignant book. I was pleased that not only did the movie follow the story line quite well, screenwriter, Jessica Sharzer was brave enough to take much of the dialog directly out of Anderson's book and put it precisely in the movie in exactly the places it belonged. There were a few scenes from the book that were left out of the movie, but I would not be able to tell you how they could have been added without being awkward to film. Only a few situations were marginally changed and I think they were done well.

Melinda is played by Kristen Stewart (yes, of Forks fame--but don't let that predispose you to this movie) who was fourteen at the time the movie was filmed. She did an amazing job, she was at once fragile and damaged, and yet displayed the strength of the symbolic tree assigned in the art class.

Mr. Freeman, the quirky art teacher is played by Steve Zahn. Initially, he didn't fit my image of Mr. Freeman, but did a fabulous job of capturing the spirit of the teacher in the story.

Elizabeth Perkins and D.B. Sweeney are Melinda's clueless parents. They portrayed the parents Anderson portrays in the book really well.

The movie was aptly rated PG-13 (see IMDb Parents' Guide). I found the book in the Young Adult section of the library. Both book and movie deal with the subject of rape and the aftermath of a teenager who did not seek help immediately after the attack. Obviously this is an emotional and traumatic subject and not appropriate for everyone. Parents should read this book before handing it to their children and talk to them about it.

Both book and movie were well done and I highly recommend them.

1 comment:

Renee said...

I'll have to read and watch this. It sounds really interesting!