Monday, March 15, 2021

Speak: The Graphic Novel


Speak is a landmark book in terms of YA literature, about Melinda Sordino, an incoming freshman who is shunned because she called the police who busted an end-of-summer high school party. As a result, she keeps to herself and lives in her head, which is not a very safe place, because what nobody knows is that she called for help because she was raped. What follows is a horror story, where her former friends and current schoolmates bully or shun her. Her former best friend Rachel won't speak to her, and worse yet, starts dating Andy, the boy who attacked her. At home, her parents are very unhappy in their own relationship, and they pay little attention to her, except to punish her for her increasingly poor grades.

This story is a powerfully charged one, and it exposes a system where victims are blamed and aggressors' actions are ignored or even encouraged. It also provides a realistic portrait of a suffering teen, along with all the signs of how her trauma manifests in multiple ways, even as she strives to simply dismiss it. I was also struck by how much the atmosphere of the school, complete with its array of various teachers, do and do not contribute to her being able to cope and find help.

I think it is fitting that the art style brings out a sense of dread and horror that suits the narrative. The black, white, and grey tones set a stark tone, and there are multiple images that are so striking that they will linger with me. So much of the visceral aspects and physical violence come through via the imagery, and this book does an excellent job making the reader empathize with Melinda's situation.

I feel that the message of this book is both necessary and also still controversial, evidenced by how often Speak frequently appears on banned book lists even 20 years after its original publication. I have never read the original novel, so I cannot compare how well the adaptation works in that sense, but I was profoundly moved by this graphic novel. I feel that it is still an important book, one that might be a buoy for someone struggling with pain from abuse or a helpful signpost to someone who might recognize similar suffering and be an ally.

This book is based on the original novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, and was adapted by Emily Carroll. Anderson is a best-selling author and two-time National Book Award Finalist, and some of her other works include the books Shout and Fever 1793. Carroll is an Eisner and an Ignatz Award winning artist who is known for her graphic novels Through the Woods and When I Arrived at the Castle. Both creators speak about their work on this adaptation in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Andrea Ayres wrote, "This graphic novel stands distinctly on its own, making its mark in the world of young adult literature and bringing its powerful message of resiliency to a brand new generation." In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews summed it up as "powerful, necessary, and essential." In another starred review, Kelley Gile opined that "it is amazing how closely this version evokes the style and feeling of the original."

Speak: The Graphic Novel was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and they offer a preview and more here.

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