Laurie Halse Anderson

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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.

Coming of Age

Like many novels with high school settings, Speak is deeply focused on ideas of growing up and coming of age. What makes this book’s exploration of that subject particularly poignant and pointed, however, is that Melinda has already experienced a major milestone of adulthood—losing her virginity—before the novel begins. The fact that this event occurred as the result of rape, however, has derailed Mel’s maturation, and for much of the book she clings to any…

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Communication versus Silence

Given that the name of the book is Speak, it is unsurprising that communication versus silence is a critical theme within the book. Silence sits at the narrative’s core: Melinda has not told anyone about her rape at the hands of popular senior Andy Evans the previous summer, and has morphed from a happy, popular student to a traumatized outcast as a result. Throughout the book, Melinda finds it harder and harder to speak…

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Appearance versus Reality

Much of Melinda’s cynicism within Speak springs from what she views as a fundamental disconnect between appearance and reality. She has experienced a deeply traumatic rape, yet her parents view her as a disappointment, her teachers view her as a problem, and her classmates view her as a freak. Because she is deeply perceptive and sensitive, Mel notices gaps between appearance and reality everywhere she goes. She sees the cracks in the façade of her…

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Family and Friendship

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…

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Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression

Because Speak takes place within Melinda’s mind, author Laurie Halse Anderson is able to vividly and achingly portray the effects of isolation and loneliness upon human consciousness. Throughout the book, Mel struggles to emerge from a cloud of depression and apathy that surrounds her, yet continually finds herself rejected and alone. Mel’s attitude towards her isolation is conflicted. On one hand, she believes that she has chosen it, pushing away all those close to her…

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Memory and Trauma

Melinda begins Speak burdened by memory and trauma: she has been raped and relives the experience every day, yet is unable to speak to anyone about it. As for her happier memories, the rape and the events that followed it have stained them. When she remembers her friends, she realizes that they have since abandoned her. When she remembers her childhood, she feels pity and nostalgia for how innocent and carefree she used to be.

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