Speak is a troubling coming-of-age story about a high school freshman, Melinda. Although the novel deals with difficult subject matter of rape and depression, it allows students to relate to the narrator and discuss these topics in a healthy manner. Before analyzing the content, it is important to have a conversation on sexual assault, consent, rape culture, and how to find support after enduring trauma. It may also be useful for students to journal their thoughts and reactions while reading or upon completion of the book. These conversations and activities will foster a safe environment in which to discuss Melinda's behaviors and the reactions of her peers.

This novel also prompts discussion on high school cliques and bullying. Students can analyze how Anderson lists the groups and talk about cliques they are familiar with at their school and how they can create a sense of belonging but can also be problematic.

Speak can be analyzed on a more literary level by examining how Anderson uses symbolism to represent Melinda's trauma and recovery. Students can discuss the significance of trees, the closet, and Melinda's art. Anderson also uses intertextuality and references The Scarlet Letter, Maya Angelou, and fairy tales. Students should be familiarized with these works and authors and how they relate to Anderson's book.

Summary

After calling the police and getting the senior party broken up at the end of summer, Melinda Sordino is ostracized by her peers. She refuses to explain why she called the authorities and becomes severely depressed, barely speaking at all. When Melinda admits to herself that senior Andy Evans raped her at the party, she slowly begins to heal and communicate her emotions through art. After she is forced to confront Andy to protect herself and her friend, other girls at the school reveal that they too have silently suffered Andy's attacks. At the end of the school year, Melinda completes her art project and tells her art teacher, Mr. Freeman, what happened to her.

Content Warning

Speak deals with underage drinking, bullying, self-mutilation, and rape.

Objectives for Teaching Speak

  • Trace Melinda's personal growth over the course of the novel.
  • Identify and discuss Anderson's use of sensory images and how they relate to Melinda's emotions.
  • Understand the use of tone in certain scenes.
  • Discuss how this is a coming-of-age novel for Melinda.
  • Identify the antagonist(s) throughout the novel.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the title and discuss the irony of the word Speak as it relates to the book.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Antithesis
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Inference
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Symbol

Themes and Motifs

  • Isolation — One of the main motifs in the novel is Melinda's silence and her inability to talk to others about what happened to her.
  • Grief —  This theme is especially important because the novel shows the immobility of grief and depicts the true dangers of depression.
  • Hope — It is relieving to see Melinda finally tell someone about her attack and go through a transformation from the sullen, quiet girl she was at the beginning, to a person with a renewed sense of self.

Related Works

Theme of Isolation

 

Theme of Grief

 

Theme of Hope

Key Facts

  • Length: 208 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 690
  • Publication Date: 1999
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Awards

  • New York Times Bestseller
  • National Book Award Finalist (1999)
  • BCCB Blue Ribbon Books(1999)
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2000)
  • Printz Honor Book (2000)

Movies

An independent film adaptation of Speak was released in 2004 and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It is now available on DVD.

Your students will love:

  • Empathizing with Melinda during her difficult first year as a high school student.
  • The many images and metaphors the Anderson creates.

Students may have problems with:

  • The serious subject of rape in the novel. Some students may not be mature enough to discuss it or will feel uncomfortable discussing it.

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.