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.

ACO logo


Nathan Smith

Letting the Essays Do The Talking: Meghan Daum’s My Misspent Youth

In the introduction to her essay collection My Misspent Youth, Meghan Daum writes that as frank as her essays are, they ‘are not confessions’. The personal essay may have long defined Daum, but she is far from a ‘confessional writer’, a title she has long resisted. Read more »


Ilona Wallace

Between You & Me: The New Yorker’s Mary Norris on publishing, editing and insecurity

Mary Norris begins her chatty grammar guide and memoir, Between You & Me, by chronicling the odd jobs she held before she began working at the New Yorker in 1978. She delivered milk – awkwardly calling ‘Milkwoman!’ when she left bottles at each stop – and crashed the dairy truck. Read more »


Chad Parkhill

On judging the Most Underrated Book Award

The chair of the judging panel for the Most Underrated Book Award shares his observations on the award, what it means to be ‘underrated’, and the current landscape of Australian literary prizes. Read more »

ROSEANNE - On set in New York - 10/16/93 
Sara Gilbert (Darlene) on the ABC Television Network comedy "Roseanne". "Roseanne" is the story of a working class family struggling with life's essential problems.

Rebecca Shaw

Out of the Imaginary Closet: Fictional characters who should have been gay

When you are part of a group that isn’t portrayed in the same way (or only negatively, or not at all) you become desperate for that glimmer of recognition. Here are several characters that I loved as a young person, who became stand-ins for the openly lesbian characters I wanted to see so much. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Rebecca Varcoe

In defence of professional cheerleading

My name is Rebecca and I’m a 26-year-old woman with a shameful secret, for which I refuse to be ashamed any longer. Today I want to confess my obsession and one true love, the subject of many rants and late-night tweeting frenzies: Cheerleading. American, All-Star Cheerleading. Read more »


Adam Rivett

Tell Me, Princess: The evolution of Disney’s princess songs

Two years ago today, Disney’s Frozen was unleashed upon the world. As far as rapacious corporate behemoths go, it’s one of the more appealing, and remains surprisingly resilient to repeat screenings. But at the heart of its achievement sits one indisputable melodic and cultural phenomenon: ‘Let It Go’. Read more »


James Tierney

Bodily Limits: An interview with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film Suspiria suffered from a critical eclipse and a variety of censored prints, and was largely cherished in its original form by aficionados of the field. A reassessment has been building, something sure to be aided by the forthcoming publication of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ perceptive and elegantly written monograph. Read more »

je tu il elle 2

Eloise Ross

Existence as Minimalism: Remembering Chantal Akerman

Images of a young woman, emptying her small flat of furniture, blocking the window and sitting in the dark, still. Sitting on a mattress in a bare room, furiously writing letters with a pencil and watching the snow through the window. Meeting with a past lover and reuniting on-screen. I think about Chantal Akerman’s films more often than I can say. Read more »


Matilda Dixon-Smith

Family Matters: Please Like Me and the Aussie TV family

In a recent episode of Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, the bouncy titles run over three little scenarios: Josh cooks dinner for his mate Tom and his boyfriend Arnold; his Mum cooks for her new housemate Hannah; and his Dad cooks for his wife, Mae. The three of them stir, sip wine and dance daggily around their kitchens in a neat metaphor for this season’s fantastic, cohesive new trajectory. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels in Mortido. Photo credit: Shane Reid

Jane Howard

A Shining Nightmare: Mortido‘s Sydney

Sydney is a city of shine and reflective surfaces. The glint of the harbour follows through to city high-rises clad in polished glass, bouncing off the wide windows of the mansions hugging the undulating land before it gives way to the impossibly deep and wide water. But this beauty that can betray the darkness of the city and its people. Read more »


Angela Meyer

Outrageous Fortune: Seeing Hamlet as a Cumberbitch

Jazz swells, hushing the audience, and the solid black gate of the theatre curtain opens. It reveals the lounging figure of Hamlet, playing a record, sniffing his father’s old jumper. But what I see first is not Hamlet: it is Benedict Cumberbatch. Read more »

kiss copy

Jane Howard

Great Aspirations: In the shadow of Patrick White

The text of The Aspirations of Daise Morrow is lifted directly from Patrick White’s short story ‘Down at the Dump’. It’s a wonderful thing to hear White’s judicious use of language; to understand the eyes through which he saw Australia; and to see an entire world of his creation brought to life in the theatre. Read more »