Laurie Halse Anderson

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Speak Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Laurie Halse Anderson

Originally a journalist, Laurie Halse Anderson wrote children’s books before transitioning to young adult novels with Speak in 1999. Since then, she has written many bestsellers and has been honored with multiple literary awards. Anderson has traveled to high schools across the country to discuss the issues raised in the book; she has also spoken out against issues such as book banning, and for increased gender equity in YA fiction. An ardent feminist, Anderson has revealed that she took the plot of Speak from a similarly traumatic and violent experience that she herself experienced as a ninth grader.
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Historical Context of Speak

The narrative of Speak is closely connected to the idea of feminism, and to the dialogue in America surrounding the issue of rape. Since the rise of the feminist movement in the mid-20th century, rape has increasingly become a part of the national conversation. Progress has been slow, however; in fact, marital rape, in which a husband rapes his wife, was not criminalized in all 50 states until 1993. The 21st century has brought about new advances in the way we as a society talk about and view rape, but there have been setbacks as well. In Steubenville, Ohio, for instance, several football players raped a high school girl and documented their crime, yet were not immediately charged or arrested; these events in 2012 led to a national controversy. Rolling Stone Magazine, meanwhile, published a shocking piece about rape at UVA in 2014, only to retract the article because much of it was false. These scandals help to explain why a culture of silence (which Melinda experiences) still keeps many rape victims from speaking out; they are fearful of being accused of lying, of having their own characters questioned, or of being shamed for the violence that was perpetrated upon them.

Other Books Related to Speak

Laurie Halse Anderson has written many other books about contemporary teenage issues; one of the most prominent is Wintergirls (2009), which deals with the sensitive topic of eating disorders as thoughtfully and poignantly as Speak discusses rape and depression. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) also deals with issues of rape, disenfranchisement, and coming of age as a woman. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951) represents the original dark coming-of-age story, while Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (2007), which depicts a young boy growing up on a reservation, similarly focuses on the narrative of a teenager trying to grow up under difficult circumstances. The Book Thief (2007), by Marcus Zuzak, also focuses on a female protagonist whose internal strength helps her to mature in the face of life’s challenges; although she lives in Nazi Germany, not upstate New York.
Key Facts about Speak
  • Full Title: Speak
  • When Written: 1999
  • Where Written: Mexico, New York
  • When Published: October 1999
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: YA fiction
  • Setting: Syracuse, NY
  • Climax: Andy Evans, Melinda’s rapist, tries to attack her at the end of the school year and she successfully fights him off, finding her voice in the process
  • Antagonist: Specifically, Andy Evans, Melinda’s rapist; more broadly, the culture of silence that has made her ashamed of her own rape
  • Point of View: 1st person

Extra Credit for Speak

Such stuff as dreams are made on. In interviews, Laurie Halse Anderson has said that Melinda came to her in a dream; she credits this experience with helping her to develop Melinda’s strong and distinctive voice.

Melinda in the movies. In 2004, Speak was adapted into a movie starring Kristen Stewart; the movie has helped contribute to the widespread popularity of the book.