I reread this book for the umpteenth time because 1) last week was Banned Books Week and it's one of the most challenged young adult books of the past decade; and 2) I thought it was on "The List." It wasn't. But that doesn't matter, because this book is amazing.
Spoiler (sorry): This follows ninth grader Melinda and how she deals with the aftermath of being raped at a party. We find out what happened at the party about halfway through the novel, up until then we just know that she underwent something tragic, tragic enough for almost the entire freshman class to hate her and for her to choose selective mutism as a way to repress her pain. Art class becomes the one place where she unknowingly learns how to express herself and gain the strength to speak the truth about what happened. It's an incredibly powerful book because it gives a voice to those who suffer silently. It's also twistedly funny.
I read this book for the first time in 2000 and every time I've reread the book since then, I've folded down a page corner of a quote I liked. Almost every page has a crease now. I love this one because of my anti-cheerleader attitude (Sorry Mom!). After the school votes on a new mascot:
"Cheerleader on the way to my bus. They wrinkle their brows as they struggle to rhyme 'wombat.' Democracy is a wonderful institution."
This next one kills me, not in an Uncle Joey "cut it out" way, but in a 'that's so depressing' way. Melinda skips school and hides out in hospital waiting rooms:
"I put the gown back. There is nothing wrong with me. These are really sick people, sick that you can see."
Melinda learns by the novel's conclusion that the invisibility of her illness doesn't detract from its reality. What kills me is that there are so many people out there who don't realize this.
Melinda's art teacher, Mr. Freeman, understands that emotion is the core, or should be the core, to everything:
"When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You'd be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside-walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It's the saddest thing I know."
I love this partly because this quote reminds me of "Over the Moon" from Rent, but mostly because it's true. Not just that adults lose sight of what matters, but that they just become so accepting of it. For me, this ties into how victims start to accept what happened to them, but in the wrong way. Acceptance is healthy, but when victims put the blame on themselves, they're only hurting more. That's how I feel, at least.
I don't think anything I say could possibly do justice to how much this book has helped readers, and not just those who have been raped, but any of those who need help finding their voice. The book doesn't shield readers from the horrors of the world. I've never understood how people could be so against a book that teaches people to speak up for themselves, to say no, and to be true to themselves. These problems don't go away just because you don't read about them. Speak is an amazing piece of realistic fiction. Read it.