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“Think about love, or hate, or joy, or rage—whatever makes you feel something, makes your palms swear or your toes curl. Focus on that feeling. When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time” Mr. Freeman —Speak


by Laurie Halse Anderson
AR Test, Good for Reluctant Readers

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Instead of looking forward to starting high school, Melinda is dreading it. She attended an end-of-the-summer party, which got busted after she called the cops. Now she is an outcast. Her friends, and even random strangers, hate her. Something terrible happened at the party. And one day, Melinda will speak about the terrible events. And that will change everything.

Because Speak is written in the first person, Melinda’s personality comes to life. Although Melinda often is sarcastic, the pain and uncertainty she feels come through. The reader knows that something terrible has happened to Melinda, and they know it has to do with “IT” and the end-of-the-summer party. However, the reader is left in suspense until the end of the story, when the horrible events of the party are revealed—Melinda was raped.

Melinda is dealing with some heavy issues—parents who only talk to her through sticky notes, feelings of depression, and the overwhelming desire to have someone like her. Speak focuses on Melinda’s struggle to understand what happened to her. At one point she questioned, “Was I raped?” When Melinda finally tells a friend about her experience, Melinda is accused of being a liar. And because no one knows what happened, Melinda’s rapist is able to continue to terrorize her. Although the story is told in a realistic manner and is teen-friendly, the events in the book may still be upsetting to some readers.

Much of the story focuses on Melinda’s inner dialogue, which allows the reader to understand her thoughts and feelings. Many of the adults in the story just don’t know how to deal with Melinda’s problems, which makes it harder for Melinda to talk. Even as Melinda struggles to speak, the message of the story is clear— “don’t expect to make a difference unless you speak up for yourself.” Melinda’s story will have a major impact on readers. Speak will be remembered long after you finish reading it.

Sexual Content

  • The school board decides to change the school mascot because “Home of the Trojans didn’t send a strong abstinence message, so they have transformed us into the Blue Devils. Better the Devil you know than the Trojan you don’t, I guess.”
  • While watching the cheerleaders, Melinda thinks, “the cheerleaders are much better at scoring than the football team is.”
  • Melinda thinks the cheerleaders “have parties wild enough to attract college students. . . They rent beach houses in Cancun during Spring Break and get group-rate abortions before prom.”
  • During biology class, the class laughs when the teacher says the word “reproduce” because “they have figured out it is related to sex.”
  • Melinda’s friend has a model shoot and Melinda thinks that her friend’s, “goosebumps are bigger than her boobs.” During the shoot, “the photographer keeps saying ‘Sexy, sexy, very cute. . . think boys.”
  • At lunch, a group of girls talks about a boy who is gorgeous and dangerous. One of the girls said, “Rumor—he sleeps with anything.”
  • When the school changes the mascot, the cheerleaders come up with a new cheer, “We are the hornets, horny, horny hornets.” During the cheer, they wiggle and shake. When the cheer makes it on the television, “the TV sports guy thought the song was cute, so he did a segment showing the ‘Hornet Hustle,’ with the cheerleaders shaking their stingers, and the crowd bumping and grinding their horny Hornet heinies.”
  • Melinda sees a girl kiss a boy in the hall, the girl “smiles and then she kisses him wet. Not a Girl Scout kiss.”
  • Melinda tells her friend about her experience, “I was stupid and drunk and I didn’t know what was happening and then he hurt . . . he raped me.” Melinda’s friend thinks she is a liar.
  • On the bathroom wall, someone writes that a boy “should get it (diprosomething) every morning in his orange juice I went out with him to the movies—he tried to get his hands down my pants during the PREVIEWS!”
  • When Melinda’s friend goes to the prom with a boy, he “was all over her with his hands and his mouth.” Melinda’s friend ditched the guy.


  • While on the school bus, someone throws a Ho-Ho and it hits Melinda in the back of the head.
  • During a pep assembly, a girl yells at Melinda, and then “the girl behind me jams her knees into my back. They are as sharp as her fingernails. . . The girl yanks my hair.”
  • While at a party, Melinda meets a boy. When he “pulled me close,” she felt dizzy. “He wrapped one arm around my back. His other hand slid down to my butt. I thought that was a little rude, but my tongue was thick with beer and I couldn’t figure out how to tell him to slow down. . .  He kissed me, man kiss, hard sweet and deep. . . He kissed me again. His teeth ground hard against my lips.” Melinda doesn’t like what is happening but isn’t sure how to stop the boy from continuing. “I can hear myself—I’m mumbling like a deranged drunk. His lips lock on mine and I can’t say anything. I twist my head away. He is so heavy. . . I open my mouth to breathe, to scream, and his hand covers it. . . shirt up, shorts down, and the ground smells wet and dark and NO!. . and he smells like beer and mean and he hurts me hurts me hurts me and gets up and zips his jeans and smiles.”
  • The boy who raped Melinda attacks her at school because “you started spreading lies, and now every girl in school is talking about me like I’m some kind of pervert . . . You are one strange bitch, you know that. A freak.” The boy tries to kiss Melinda, and when she pulls away he, “slams his body against mine. . . He curses and turns, his fist coming, coming. An explosion in my head and blood in my mouth. He hit me.” The attack takes place over three pages. In the end, Melinda breaks a mirror and “wrap my fingers around a triangle of glass. I hold it to Andy Evans’s neck.” Finally, the lacrosse team shows up and helps Melinda.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While watching television, Melinda’s dad “drops ice cubes in a heavy-bottomed glass and pours in some booze.”
  • Melinda’s ex-friend, “puts a candy cigarette between her lips. Rachelle wants desperately to smoke, but she has asthma.”
  • Melinda friend tells her, “But you just can’t cut classes or not show up to school. What’s next—hanging out with the dopers?”
  • Melinda goes to a party where she and other teens are drinking.
  • During prom season, some kids talk about “which limo company won’t tell if you drink.”


  • Profanity is scattered throughout the book. Profanity includes: bitchy, bullshit, crap, darn, and pissed.
  • “Oh my god” is used as an exclamation several times.
  • A girl calls Malinda an “asshole.”
  • Someone calls a girl a “bitch.”
  • Melinda is upset with a teacher and thinks, “I’m not going to let an idiot teacher jerk me around like this.”
  • According to the writing on the bathroom stall, a girl has pissed off a whole bunch of people. One person wrote in huge letters that she is a whore.
  • Melinda thinks it’s best to stay quiet because “All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie.”
  • When Melinda’s friend tells her they are no longer friends, Melinda tries “to think of something bitchy, something wicked and cruel. I can’t.”


  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Melinda’s “parents didn’t raise me to be religious. The closest we come to worship is the Trinity of Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. I think the Merryweather cheerleaders confuse me because I missed out on Sunday School. It has to be a miracle. There is no other explanation. Howe else could they sleep with the football team on Saturday night and be reincarnated as virginal goddess on Monday?”
  • When Melinda goes to the mall and finds that it is closed, she thinks, “It’s always supposed to be there, like milk in the refrigerator or God.”
  • A girl Melinda knows is “experimenting with Islam. She wears a scarf on her head and some brown-and-red gauzy harem pants.”
Other books by Laurie Halse Anderson
Other books you may enjoy

“Think about love, or hate, or joy, or rage—whatever makes you feel something, makes your palms swear or your toes curl. Focus on that feeling. When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time” Mr. Freeman —Speak

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