Here we get another page-turner. We loved the film and hopefully you enjoyed reading the novel too. The title is quite emblematic, isn’t it? Melinda Sordino undergoes a traumatic experience and this forces her into a sort of depressive tunnel. She does not have any point of reference. She cannot SPEAK UP, that is she cannot express her feelings, her emotions, her thoughts. She withdraws into a sort of catatonic state, she barely speaks and living (and going to school) becomes a trudge, a burden. Yet, little by little, especially thanks to her arts teacher, she frees herself from fear, from shame and decides to SPEAK UP, she decides to express herself first through art and then she manages to verbalize her nightmare to guarantee herself a much-expected rebirth.
If you were asked to change title to the novel, what would it be? It should retain the quality that SPEAK guarantees, that is it should be effective about the plot without spoiling the read.
The author herself, Laurie Halse Anderson, says that “there are lots of kids out there in Melinda’s position – struggling with depression and teetering [moving unsteadily] on the edge of disaster – but people don’t pay attention unless they do something drastic”. Do you agree with this statement of hers? Why (not)? Can you think of any “drastic” event involving young people with problems either in Italy or in the USA?
The writer adds “today’s teens have to cope with massive amounts of stress and conflict. Way too many of them understand the pain of not feeling like they can speak up”. Do you feel supported at school? Do you think that if you were in trouble you could rely on some of your teachers, on you classmates, on any other adult figure within the school you attend? What do you expect as a student from the institution that you frequent 5 days out of 7? Do you think students are well-catered for? (Try to provide examples). Do you think Melinda Sordino’s lot [condition in life] would have been different if she had been attending your school?
I do not generally watch the film adaptation before I read the novel. With you I opted for the reverse, to help you find your way through the book. The following is the trailer to the film, do you find it to the point?
What I liked about the film and the trailer is that they highlight the key-role of the arts teacher in helping Melinda find her voice. Of course, being a teacher myself, informed the way I perceived some scenes in the film. I despised the history teacher for his being obnoxiously arrogant, for not promoting free expression in the class, for abusing his role as a teacher and most of all for being racist. Yet, there is the other teacher that balances the situation perfectly well: he is a teacher who cares for his students and cherishes his profession. I would like you to think of a teacher that you esteem/ed a lot, that in your opinion helped you become a better person. Write a letter to that teacher and express your gratitude, express in what way s/he helped you. (TASK ONE)
The movie is faithful to the book, but there are obviously things that had to be cut. What scenes are not in the book but in the film? (mention one you found meaningful). Then, what scenes are present in the novel, but not in the film? (once again mention just the one/s you deem more significant). Why do you think the director chose such an ending? Were you happy with it? If yes, why? If no, why not?
I was astonished to read in an interview to the writer that lots of young men asked her why Melinda was so upset about being raped. This means that many young men are not being taught the impact that sexual assault has on a woman. As we mentioned in class, we are inundated by sexual imagery in the media (think of advertising with lots of sexual innuendo, it seems that if there are no hints to sex a “product” does not sell!) and often youngsters come to the shocking conclusion that having sex (even forced/unwanted sex) is not a big deal. This explains why the number of sexual assaults is so high. Another aspect that puzzled me was reading that most adults feel that rape is an inappropriate topic of discussion with teenagers. What do you think? Do you think teachers should speak openly about sexual issues or do you think this topic should be left to the free choice of families only?
Believe it or not, but Speak was banned from schools in certain States in the USA since it was considered filthy and immoral; in other words mentioning rape meant for the censors dealing with “soft pornography”. Do you think “rape” should not be mentioned in school or do you think that mentioning it helps some students become aware of the ordeal some “victims” have to face, or helps them speak up, as it happened for some of them in the USA?
Readers wrote tons of letters to the writer, expressing their gratitude for the book, because reading it gave them the strength to speak up. To respond to their letters, Ms Anderson decided to write a poem dedicated to all the victims of rape. Significantly enough she decided to entitle it “Listen”. The striking words are “cut to let out the pain”, “your book cracked my shell”, “Speak gave me wings, opened my mouth, I whispered, I cried, I hated talking”, “You made me remember who I am”.
Can you write your poem through Melinda’s eyes? (TASK TWO)
This is my poem:
You usurped my being
You bent my will
You choked my living energy
You gagged my thriving youth
You silenced my days
You threw me into an unspeakable and gnawing despair
You were like an avalanche crawling over my body, scarring it to unmentionable limits
You branded my deep soul with your filthy semen
If only you knew what deep gorging chasm you forced into me
I want my old me BACK
I want my life BACK
You uprooted the joy of my future
You viciously deprived me of a loving choice
Limiting my teen days
Spoiling my life
Energy, I beseech you,
Enter my body,
Delete the brutish and fiendish wound that aches within my body and my mind
Spark some new vitality into me
Ambers turn into a vigorous fire
Energizing life sow positive seeds into my being
Seeds that will make my despair vanish for ever
Anguished, but much yearned rebirth.
If you are interested in getting to know more about the author, you could visit her webpage at http://madwomanintheforest.com/
Last but not least, this is a useful website for rape victims http://www.rainn.org/
Is there a similar website in Italy? What do you think is done in Italy to sensitise the public opinion about the ordeal of rape? What is done to help young teenagers overcome the pain, the shock, help them speak out their turmoil to win their lives back?
When I was an adolescent a school mate of mine, the girlfriend of a classmate and a friend of mine, was raped. That changed both their lives. I have clear recollections of those days. Little was done to help her. Not because of lack of will, quite the contrary, it had more to do with a deep sense of embarrassment. Speaking about sex and tackling the problem of sexual assault was a taboo issue. If only I could go back to those days! I am sure I would react differently, I am sure I would do something to make a difference in my friend's life. Speak has certainly made me rethink about that terrible incident and writing this post has certainly worked as a catharsis to me.
A good book should reflect human experience we can learn from, Speak certainly did.