2014 columns, Young Adult literature

Let’s talk about Speak

by Danielle Binks , February 11, 2014Leave a comment


I want to leave, transfer, warp myself to another galaxy. I want to confess everything, hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to someone else. There is a beast in my gut, I can hear it scraping away at the inside of my ribs. Even if I dump the memory, it will stay with me, staining me —   Excerpt from ‘Speak’

Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the most revered authors of young adult literature writing today.

In 2008 she was the recipient of the prestigious ALAN Award, and the following year she won the ALA Margaret A. Edwards Award – both celebrated her ‘significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.’

She has consistently written hard truths with infinite tenderness, from examining modern masculinity in Twisted, to eating disorders with Wintergirls. Her latest novel – The Impossible Knife of Memory (Text Publishing, 2014) – is about the impact of a returned soldier’s post-traumatic stress disorder on his teenage daughter.

But it’s her debut novel Speak that young audiences keep finding their way back to, and which is going to be given a new life with a graphic novel adaptation.

Speak was released in 1999. Told in first-person epistolary narrative, Melinda Sordino recounts the story of her rape and the subsequent fallout when she cannot articulate what happened to her. Melinda is ostracised by her friends, and withdraws so much from society that she even stops speaking. It is only through art, and the understanding of her teacher Mr. Freeman, that she eventually finds her voice again, and begins to reclaim her identity.

The novel has been translated into 16 languages, was a National Book Award Finalist, Printz Honor Book and Edgar Allan Poe Best Young Adult Award Finalist.

For dealing unflinchingly with rape, Halse Anderson’s book has been banned and censored – in Missouri the book was classified as ‘soft-pornography’ and continually ranks on the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books. Speak was also adapted into a film in 2004.

In 2016 Speak will be adapted into a graphic novel, illustrated by Emily Carroll, who Halse Anderson had final say in choosing for the project. ‘She has a real gift for portraying subtext, particularly dark and troubling emotional states. She also believes in hope,’ says Halse Anderson. For Carroll, who was 16 when Speak was first released, the story and focus on healing through art held particular resonance: ‘Melinda reminded me a lot of myself at her age, which I’m sure is a feeling experienced by a lot of readers. Laurie captured her voice so perfectly – it is heartbreaking and real.’

Speak remains one of the most powerful and popular contemporary young adult novels to date, and there’s no doubt that a graphic adaptation will provide more facets to Melinda’s story. Halse Anderson agrees: ‘Melinda is a character who doesn’t talk much because of the trauma she’s endured. In the novel, I was able to give insight into her thoughts and feelings by putting readers in her thoughts. I am very excited to see what Emily will be able to communicate about Melinda’s interior world in her illustrations. I think the graphic novel is going to have a new, rich layer of nuance that will absolutely delight readers and bring new people to the story.’

Laurie Halse Anderson also hopes that a graphic retelling of her novel will keep young people talking about a subject that still has such unfortunate relevance today. ‘I hope they’ll find a new understanding of the challenges of depression, the aftermath of sexual assault and the power that comes from speaking up.’

Danielle Binks is a Melbourne-based blogger, editor and aspiring writer of young adult fiction.

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