Banned Book Week, review 2: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is about a teenager who is an outcast as a high school freshman because of a rape she can't talk about. The novel was a New York Times bestseller and was also named a Printz Honor book in 2000.

~ Speak is on the ALA's list of Top Banned/ Challenged books for the last decade.

~ It has been challenged numerous times for content and subject matter.

~ Speak was recently challenged in Missouri. The challenge was accompanied by an editorial in which Speak was grouped with other books referred to as soft pornography. The editorial sparked a blogstorm about both censorship and rape and a Twitter conversation tagged as #speakloudly.

My Take:  Speak has been on my to-read list for quite a while, but the Speak Loudly movement bumped it straight to the top. And I'm glad it did. I've been a Laurie Halse Anderson fan ever since I read Catalyst and Speak is even better. What was interesting to me was that I read the editorial about Speak before I read the actual book. So I was activly looking for any parts that might be offensive.

I found nothing.

Here's a deep dark secret about me and books. When I was in fifth grade, I became fascinated with adult romances. The juciy paperback ones, where all the really good parts are somewhere in the middle. I read them at the library and a few years later actually brought them home.

To be honest, it wasn't a great reading choice for me. I would probably have a serious conversation with my niece if I ever saw her reading things like that while still in elementary/junior high, but here's the thing: I got past it. I figured out that it wasn't realistic, that too much of it wasn't healthy and eventually I moved on to other material.

So to hear books like Speak characterized as filthy makes me laugh. It's actually one of the cleaner YA's I've read this year. And bear in mind, I discovered "adult" books in the early nineties, before the Internet really took off AND I was a pretty sheltered kid who went to mostly private schools. If I can get a hold of that kind of thing, anybody can. It doesn't have to be in the schools or the school library.

And scrubbing anything that disturbs us from the school library is not going to make it go away.

What does need to be in schools are books that sensitively address issues that teenagers face more and more, like rape and drug abuse. Books that reassure hurting teens that they are not alone. Books that tell the truth about life and love and the painful, wonderful weirdness of being a flawed human being in a broken world.

I call no-banning on this book. We need it right where it is.

What's your take?


  1. I haven't read this, but definitely agree with your thought that books that tell the truth about life and love are books that are necessary, on so many levels. Aren't the best reads those that almost hold a mirror up to some part of life that the reader recognizes?

  2. I loved Speak. I read it awhile ago and recently as a book on tape. I loved it just as much. My daughter is 13 and I am hoping she'll read it soon. Her best friend, who is 14, had to read it this summer for school and really loved it. I really feel that not only should it not be banned, but that all teenage girls should read it. It would really help them to be aware of what they could have to contend with. Knowledge could really help avoid tragic situations for some girls. I pray it does for my own daughter.

  3. Joanne- Exactly! And there's a difference between telling the truth and trying to shock/titillate an audience. As far I as I can see, Speak is the former and not the latter.

    Natalie- Yah! I agree with you, it would be a good read for teen girls in general. And I hope along with you that it does help your child avoid grief in those areas.


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