Melinda Sordino has a terrible secret. Something happened to her at a summer party and when she tried to report it, she became the school outcast. All of her "friends" turned their backs on her, the adults in her life effectively ignore her and everyone else simply stops "listening". So, Melinda stops speaking. When everyone seems to turn a deaf ear, when everyone seems to stop caring, one teacher reaches out to her-- her art teacher, Mr. Freeman. Eventually, Melinda finds strength inside of her to defend herself and tell her secret, even when her best friend initially refuses to believe her.
Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak is a haunting tale of isolation-- self-imposed or otherwise-- and the desire to have someone notice and care about the hell one girl was dealing with. Melinda is a believable character to whom girls or victims in general can relate. (Let's face it, this can happen to boys too, read Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson's Target for a boy's perspective.)
I found it DEVASTATING that most of the adults in Melinda's life were too busy to care about what was happening to her, including her own parents. The adults in her life simply chalked her moodiness, silence and general apathy to being an angtsy teenage girl. I did rally behind Mr. Freeman when he attempted to reach out to Melinda through Art. Kudos to him for that!
One of my favorite aspects of this book has to be that Melinda finds her courage and strength from a poster of Maya Angelou-- a woman who shares a similar frightening experience. Though Melinda doesn't know her personally, she is able to harness strength and find her voice again. And this time when she Speaks, someone finally listens.