Saturday, November 1, 2008

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak tells the story of a 9th grade girl named Melinda Sordino. Before the time frame of the book begins, Melinda is a fairly normal and healthy teenage girl. She has a small group of friends, is a good student, and has her own ambitions. However, when she is raped at a summer party, everything changes. She calls the cops on the party, and for that reason no one will talk to her. As a result, Melinda enters 9th grade with "the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, and the wrong attidude...[she] has no one to sit with. [she] he is an outcast" (Anderson 4).

I had read this book when I was a teenager, and I decided to reread it for this assignment. In rereading this novel, I am astounded at how much it reminded me of my own girlhood (particularly, my middle school experience). I was not raped, thankfully, but I was an outcast throughout middle school. Like Melinda, I had no friends. Like Melinda, I passively accepted it when people teased me. Like Melinda, I was filled with anxiety any time I was put into any social situation.

Here are a few passages that I identified with as similar to my middle school experience:

I need a new friend. I need a friend, period. Not a true friend, nothing close or share clothes or sleepover giggle giggle yak yak. Just a pseudo-friend, disposable friend. Friend as accesory. Just so I don't feel and look so stupid. - p. 22

In eighth grade, I remember wishing that I would just have someone to be with so I didn't feel so alone. Someone to sit with at lunch or to walk around with at recess. I didn't even care if I actually liked her or not, it was just so I could feel like I was a normal kid. I guess a big part of girlhood is keeping up an appearance of being liked by others. Even if you may not love your friend, you keep her because she makes you feel like less of an outcast.

I hide in the bathroom until I know Heather's bus has left. The salt in my tears feels good when it stings my lips. I wash my face in the sink until there is nothing left of it, no eyes, no nose, no mouth. A slick nothing. - p.45

The most vivid memory i have from middle school is crying in the bathroom after being ostracized by people I thought were my friends (or "pseudo-friends," at least). I locked myself in the stall and cried. I distinctly remember praying to God that someone would like me. In Speak, Melinda cries for a similar reason. She leaves the room her "pseudo friend" Heather was in due to popular girls entering. After she leaves, she hears the girls talk about how ugly she is, and Heather does not defend her.

How else could they sleep with the football team on Saturday night and be reincarnated as virginal goddesses on Monday? It's as if they operate in two realities simultaneuosly...these are our role models- the Girls who Have it All. I bet none of them ever stutter or screw up or feel like their brains are dissolving into marshmallow fluff. They all have beautiful lips, carefully outlined in red and polished to a shine. - p. 30

Like Melinda, I distinctly remember idolizing the popular girls. On one hand, they are beautiful and seem perfect. On the other hand, you hate them a little...but still wish you could be like them (Mean Girls, anyone?). In this passage, Melinda is actually describing the cheerleaders at her school and how they are able to be both good girls and bad girls. Rather than picking one or the other, the cheerleaders at Melinda's school have mastered the art of the good girl/bad girl dichotomy. While demonstrating bad girl behavior, they are able to keep up the appearances of good girls. Again, we see appearance to be a huge factor in a girl's school experience.

In conclusion, it's amazing how strongly I identify my girlhood experience with Melinda's. This book truly speaks for any girl whoever felt like an outcast, and it's a great book for girls and women alike.

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