Let’s just get this admission out of the way: I’ve never read the original book. Trust me — it wasn’t because I had zero interest in books that talk about real issues (well, they ALL talk about real issues in their own way) or because it wasn’t my kind of genre (totally is).
The truth is, SPEAK was banned by my high school and somewhere, somehow, I completely forgot about it.
Until this month.
Fair warning: SPEAK is graphic. It depicts acts of sexual violence against a female minor. It also explores self-harm, depression, bullying, PTSD, anxiety, and abuse — all topics that might trigger an individual.
My rating: ♥♥♥♥♥+
Blurb: From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless–an outcast–because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her.
I’m in the rare situation that I did not begin by reading the modern classic version of SPEAK. It’s a consistent habit for me to read the book before I see the movie or move on to other editions of that novel. But SPEAK broke that habit.
I picked SPEAK up at the library. The cover – a girl’s face reflected in the trunk of a twisted, blackened, but beautiful tree – caught my eye. I think I requested a hole twice before I actually walked out with it. At the time, I had no idea it was connected to the modern classic. I just knew two things: the cover spoke to some part of me and the back had three words I couldn’t refuse: “I said No.”
I read the graphic novel in a single day. From the opening page, I found myself completely engaged with Melinda’s situation, 100% affected by not only her quietly anxious nature – but by the way this was not her natural state. It’s made clear quite early that something – someone – had altered her and this affected me deeply. I’ve never been raped and I’ve never self-harmed, but anxiety and PTSD are intimate companions in my life. And to see this through her eyes affected me in several ways:
I was angry for her. I was compassionate. I was saddened. I felt empathy. And when Melinda had moments where she wanted to harm the one who hurt her — a mentality that might sound extreme to anyone who hasn’t suffered a trauma — I felt I understood her, like I was seeing part of myself and my own trauma in her and this only made me want to know more.
The illustrations (drawn by Emily Carroll) were vivid; tangled, twisted, edgy – the spark of flint over wood or a strike of lightning. The graphics felt like they rose from the page, like each drawn piece was carved right out of the main characters heart and mind, weaving together an emotional vision of a girl who lost everything — yet, still hung on to life.
Words alone cannot describe how poignant and necessary it was for me to read SPEAK. I have paper cuts from not being able to turn the page fast enough and there were times when I had to put the book down because I was close to crying. I was emotionally affected by this book and it heightened my awareness of the issue of consent. It’s a word you hear all the time, but I now feel as though it’s a word everyone should be intimately aware of.
For the first time ever, I give SPEAK ♥♥♥♥♥+ because it’s message is needed in society and because without it, I think lives will go unchanged and I don’t feel like that’s life at all. We should want to change — our minds and hearts should never be unchanging. Lastly, I give it the highest rating because it has never been more important to SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT about consent and sexual assault — especially when those who have suffered struggle to find their voices.