There are some books that I read because I want to and some books that I read because I feel like I should. Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak definitely falls under the second category. Though I'd read a few of Halse Anderson's later books (Twisted, Catalyst, Prom, and -- my favorite -- Wintergirls) and I'd heard tons of praise for Speak, I'd never bothered to read it. It falls under the category of: books I always meant to read.
After the whole Wesley Scroggins debacle last year, I meant to read it even more. When it showed up at my used bookstore I had to buy it. Eighteen pages in, I understood why this book is considered a contemporary classic, the beginning of the YA genre as we know it today. And it's not because the book tackles such a huge topic, one that hadn't been talked about much (at all?) before in books for teenagers; it's because that, while sullen, angsty, withdrawn, and dealing with something huge, Melinda manages to be something of an everygirl. Written in a very stream-of-consciousness style, Melinda's dry-toned observations on everyday high school life are spot on. Despite being a rape victim and outcast, her outlook on life is, to a degree, the quintessential teenage angst.
I mean, she's depressed, no doubt. But there's something in her voice -- her concerns, her lack of confidence, the fact that nobody listens to her paired with her observations on everything and everyone -- that speaks to every teenager. And there's something in the story -- a mix of the everyday trials of Being A Teen and the Big Issue that Melinda's dealing with -- that seems to lay the foundation for the YA we know today.
This is all to say that:
1. I'm so so glad I finally read Speak and
2. even more importantly, I'm so grateful that Speak was written and published in the first place.
If you're a YA reader (and especially a YA reader who also writes YA) who has somehow managed to go this long without reading Speak, I really urge you to.