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Themes and Colors
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Speak, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family and Friendship Theme Icon

Like any student in high school, Melinda’s life revolves around family and friends. Unlike most high schoolers, however, Melinda is completely alienated from both groups. Her parents are neglectful and distant, and she feels completely unable to tell them about her recent trauma. Her friends, meanwhile, have all abandoned her, believing that she maliciously called the cops on a party when in fact she was only trying to report the fact that Andy Evans had just raped her.

This separation from both friends and family makes Mel simultaneously lonely and cynical. She yearns for friendship, and is deeply hurt when her friend Heather ditches her, even though she has spent most of the book mocking Heather’s stupidity and immaturity. At the same time, she finds it impossible to connect with her peers, and pushes away an offer of friendship from class geek David Petrakis because she believes that emotional attachment leads to pain and betrayal. In general, she maintains a deeply skeptical attitude about high school friendships, believing them to be superficial and harmful, even as she is incredibly jealous of these connections. This pattern is similar to the behavior she displays towards her parents, pushing them away even as she wishes that they would help and protect her.

Mel must learn, over the course of the book, how to trust and connect with people. She finds allies in David, her former friend Ivy, and her art teacher Mr. Freeman, all of whom prove to her human connection is not always harmful, but is in fact necessary for health and happiness.

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Family and Friendship ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family and Friendship appears in each chapter of Speak. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Family and Friendship Quotes in Speak

Below you will find the important quotes in Speak related to the theme of Family and Friendship.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don’t have anyone to sit with. I am Outcast.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

As Melinda begins her freshman year of high school, she reacts to her new environment with pessimism and dread. On one level, this quote reflects how sorely Melinda sticks out within the conformist world of Merryweather High. On a deeper level, Melinda's repetitive description of herself as "wrong" gives readers a sense of her deep self-hatred, and her lack of comfort within her own skin. By criticizing her own appearance, Melinda is unknowingly revealing the reality of her emotional state. Despite claiming frequently that she doesn't care what others think, Melinda's description of herself as an "Outcast" reveals that she is in fact thinking of herself in the way that others see her. Although she may pretend that her isolation doesn't bother her, Melinda is in fact acutely sensitive to her peers' opinions of her; in an effort to ignore their rejection and cruelty, she judges herself as harshly as possible. 


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Part 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

I used to be like Heather. Have I changed that much in two months? She is happy, driven, aerobically fit. She has a nice mom and an awesome television. But she’s like a dog that keeps jumping into your lap. She always walks with me down the halls chattering a million miles a minute.
My goal is to go home and take a nap.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Heather
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

While spending time at Heather's house, Melinda reflects on the other girl's shallow, vapid personality. This quote highlights the importance of Heather as a character within the novel. Not only does Heather force Melinda to actually interact with someone throughout the narrative, but she also represents both Melinda's past self and her current disillusionment. Like it or not, Heather reminds Melinda of the innocent, enthusiastic person she used to be.

Rather than increasing Melinda's positive feelings towards Heather, however, this association only makes the protagonist feel more annoyed and hostile towards her semi-friend. She sees her old self as vapid, naive, and idiotic, and attributes all those traits to Heather as well.

Beneath this anger, however, is a deep sense of sadness, pain, and envy. As we often see within the book, Melinda longs for the person she used to be, her anger at her past self masking how much she misses her lost innocence. This mix of emotions makes her feelings towards Heather extraordinarily complex, but also helps to explain why she spends so much time with the other girl. 

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner means something to her. It’s like a holy obligation, part of what makes her a wife and mother. My family doesn’t talk much and we have nothing in common, but if my mother cooks a proper Thanksgiving dinner, it says we’ll be a family for one more year. Kodak logic. Only in film commercials does stuff like that work.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

In the midst of a disastrous Thanksgiving, Melinda reflects on why her mother cares so much about the holiday. While many teenagers feel hostilely towards adults—particularly their parents—Melinda articulates a deep cynicism here regarding her family. She believes that her mother's dedication to a ritual of togetherness and tradition (Thanksgiving) is in fact entirely deluded. That is, by focusing on appearances, such as the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, her mother is ignoring the family's broken and alienated reality.

Beneath Melinda's cynicism, however, readers are able to pick up important details about her mother. A hardworking and driven professional, Melinda's mother is clearly desperate to fulfill the traditional roles of "wife and mother." Seen in this light, her pointless efforts to cook the perfect Thanksgiving dinner are not contemptible, as Melinda seems to believe, but deeply sad. Faced with a distant husband and a nearly comatose daughter, Melinda's mother puts her efforts into cooking a perfect Thanksgiving dinner because she doesn't know what else to do.

Part 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

Applesmell soaks the air. One time when I was little, my parents took me to an orchard. Daddy set me high in an apple tree. It was like falling up into a storybook, yummy and red and leaf and the branch not shaking a bit. Bees bumbled through the air, so stuffed with apple they couldn’t be bothered to sting me. The sun warmed my hair, and a wind pushed my mother into my father’s arms, and all the apple-picking parents and children smiled for a long, long minute.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests, Warmth and Sunlight
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Triggered by the scent of apples, Melinda remembers a beloved scene from her childhood. This quote stands out as an unusual one within the novel—it lacks Melinda's usual blend of cynicism and pain, instead representing a moment of positivity and beauty. Given Melinda's hatred of the way that she has been growing up lately, it makes sense that she would be extremely nostalgic for her earlier childhood, as is shown here. Importantly, this memory also represents a time of connection between Melinda and her parents, during which they were an actual loving family, instead of simply three people living in the same house.

It's also worth noting that both trees and sunlight figure heavily into this treasured memory—two important and positive symbols within the narrative. Trees represent strength and rebirth to Melinda, while the sun represents the gradual thawing of her inner sense of frozenness. That they both show up within this passage makes clear how important the memory is to her, while also explaining her positive associations with these symbols. 

Despite the beauty and happiness contained within this passage, it is important to remember that to Melinda, this feeling of innocence and connection is completely lost. The memory is a good one, but she believes that she will never feel happy or whole again—so although she is recollecting a blissful moment in her past, the very act of doing so is deeply painful to her. 

Part 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

I bet they’d be divorced by now if I hadn’t been born. I’m sure I was a huge disappointment. I’m not pretty or smart or athletic. I’m just like them— an ordinary drone dressed in secrets and lies. I can’t believe we have to keep playacting until I graduate. It’s a shame we can’t just admit that we have failed family living, sell the
house, split the money, and get on with our lives.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Stuck with her parents during winter break, Melinda vocalizes her anger at both herself and her parents. She first calls herself a "disappointment" for being like her parents, whom she believes are dishonest and secretive. She then goes even further, calling her relationships with her mother and father (and theirs with each other) a sham, implying that they are "playacting" as a family instead of actually being one. 

Beneath this venom and cynicism, however, it is important to understand Melinda's pain and loneliness. Her parents were unable to protect her from assault, and now they are unable to understand why she has become a shell of her former self. Melinda is deeply angry about this, believing that her parents' insufficiencies make them unfit to be parents.

Although she may seem like someone who pushes others away, what Melinda actually craves is connection and communication—and her parents seem unable to provide those things to her. Given this failure, the traumatized and desperate Melinda believes that it would be better to cut ties altogether to avoid any more pain and suffering. 

I almost tell them right then and there. Tears flood my eyes. They noticed I’ve been trying to draw. They noticed. I try to swallow the snowball in my throat. This isn’t going to be easy. I’m sure they suspect I was at the party. Maybe they even heard about me calling the cops. But I want to tell them everything as we sit there by our plastic Christmas tree while the Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer video plays.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father
Related Symbols: Water, Ice, and Melting
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

On Christmas Day, Melinda's parents reveal that they've noticed her newfound love of drawing, and give her various art supplies. Although Melinda generally takes a cynical and hardened attitude towards her parents, here she experiences a moment of warmth towards them.

The passage is significant because it makes clear how desperate Melinda is to tell her parents about her assault--so desperate that even the smallest thoughtful gesture almost sends her over the edge. The quotation is also rich in symbolism, as Melinda feels a "snowball" in her throat—an image of solid water, in contrast with the "tears" in her eyes. The snowball represents how frozen and motionless Melinda has felt for months, while the tears symbolize the possibility of thaw and release.

The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer video, while a vivid detail, also acts as an important symbol here. In a bit of tragic irony, an emblem of childhood and innocence plays on the screen as Melinda contemplates telling her parents about her sexual assault. The childlike past that the video represents contrasts with the mature, difficult reality of Melinda's present. 

Part 2, Chapter 21 Quotes

I open up a paper clip and scratch it across the inside of my left wrist. Pitiful. If a suicide attempt is a cry for help, then what is this? A whimper, a peep? I draw little windowcracks of blood, etching line after line until it stops hurting. It looks like I arm-wrestled a rosebush.
Mom sees the wrist at breakfast.
Mom: “I don’t have time for this, Melinda.”

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests, Blood
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

By now almost entirely unable to speak, Melinda escalates her self-harm, this time cutting shallow lines in her wrist with a paper clip. Even this attempt, though, cannot adequately communicate her pain. Indeed, Melinda mocks herself, calling her action "pitiful," a "whimper" or "peep" for help at best. Neither her words nor her actions can truly express the deep emotional and mental pain that she harbors. Melinda says that she continues cutting "until it stops hurting," a phrase that can refer to her wrist (which becomes numb), or to her emotional pain, which she is releasing through self-harm. 

Note too that even during a time of peak emotional distress, Melinda thinks about plants, commenting that she looks as if she's "arm-wrestled a rosebush." Even in this dark moment, Melinda's obsession with her art project remains—a glimmer of hope in a disturbing and bleak episode. 

The end of the passage, meanwhile, only emphasizes what readers already know: that Melinda's parents have no idea what has happened to her, and that they are only making it more difficult for her to communicate. Melinda's mother sees her action not as a cry for help, but as a plea for attention. In a world of disinterested adults and hostile peers, it makes sense that Melinda remains silent; she has no reason to believe that anyone wants to hear what she has to say. 

Part 3, Chapter 8 Quotes

I rock, thumping my head against the cinder-block wall. A half-forgotten holiday has unveiled every knife that sticks inside me, every cut. No Rachel, no Heather, not even a silly, geeky boy who would like the inside girl I think I am.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Heather, Rachel Bruin, David Petrakis
Related Symbols: Melinda’s Closet , Blood
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

After a disastrous Valentine's Day, Melinda crumbles inside her closet. Through most of her narrative, Melinda acts as if she doesn't care about the opinions of her peers. This passage, however, makes clear how false that attitude actually is. While she may pretend to be hardened and cynical, Melinda in fact feels "cut" every time that someone rejects or mocks her. Rather than being apathetic, Melinda actually cares far too much. An intelligent and emotionally attuned person, she tries to protect herself from the world with hostility, but is unable to do so.

It is interesting, too, that Melinda calls herself "the inside girl I think I am." Always aware of the differences between interior and exterior, Melinda understands that she is far more sensitive and observant than she lets on. Her idea of herself is different from the face she shows to the world; yet even as she hides this softer side of herself, she is desperate for someone else to access it. 

Part 3, Chapter 14 Quotes

I stumble from thornbush to thornbush— my mother and father who hate each other, Rachel who hates me, a school that gags on me like I’m a hairball. And Heather.
I just need to hang on long enough for my new skin to graft. Mr. Freeman thinks I need to find my feelings. How can I not find them? They are chewing me alive like an infestation of thoughts, shame, mistakes.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father, Heather, Mr. Freeman, Rachel Bruin
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

In a moment of peak anguish, Melinda once again uses a botanical metaphor to express herself, thinking of all the obstacles and difficulties in her life as thornbushes ready to rip off her skin. Although it is frustrating to see Melinda remain silent and isolated, passages such as this help readers understand why she does so. To Melinda, everything in her life is hostile and sharp, ready to rip her to shreds. She does not feel safe with anyone, and so she can never release the terrible burden of her guilt and trauma. She is trying her best to heal from her sexual assault—to allow her "new skin to graft"—but everything in her life is making it more difficult to do so. 

This passage also makes clear Melinda's complicated relationship to emotion and appearances. Outwardly, Melinda is apathetic; she doesn't seem to care about school, friends, or life. Inwardly, however, Melinda is in constant torment, her guilt, shame, and regret eating her up inside. Given her inner pain, it makes sense that Melinda tries to remain as outwardly unfeeling as possible. If she ever lets out the powerful emotions inside of her, she is terrified of what will happen. 

Part 4, Chapter 5 Quotes

His lips move poison and she smiles and then she kisses him wet. Not a Girl Scout kiss. He gives her the notebook. His lips move. Lava spills out my ears. She is not any part of a pretend Rachelle-chick. I can only see third-grade Rachel who liked barbecue potato chips and who braided pink embroidery thread into my hair that I wore for months until my mom made me cut it out. I rest my forehead against the prickly stucco.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Andy Evans, Rachel Bruin
Related Symbols: Lips
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

Melinda's worst nightmare comes true as her rapist, Andy Evans, begins dating her ex-best friend, Rachel Bruin. This passage offers an aching contrast between adulthood and childhood. In the present, Melinda sees a girl who has tormented her all year kissing the boy who violently raped her. Flashing back to the past, however, Melinda is unable to banish thoughts of her childhood with Rachel, or to stop remembering their lost innocence and former friendship. Her positive memories of Rachel are at war with her trauma surrounding Andy. 

Even at this point, though, Melinda is unable to speak. Completely at war with herself, she remains motionless, her impulse to protect herself in conflict with her desire to tell the truth and protect Rachel.