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Study Guide: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - BookNotes

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SPEAK: STUDY GUIDE / BOOK SUMMARY / CHAPTER NOTES

LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

Speak is set in Syracuse, New York, in the specific neighborhood and school-Merryweather High School-of Melinda Sordino in the present day.


CHARACTER LIST

Melinda Sordino
She is a sophomore in Merryweather High School, Syracuse, New York. She is terribly unhappy, because she is the victim of a vicious rape, and so spends her entire ninth-grade year trying to come to terms with what happened to her. She refuses to speak most of the time and she misbehaves in interesting ways to try to give meaning to her own existence or to avoid the pain she feels so deeply. She appears to have great potential and like most of us, she will eventually discover that she makes her life whatever it will become.

Melinda’s parents
Their dissatisfaction with their own lives and their marriage contributes to Melinda’s unhappiness. When she is able to overcome her pain, she helps them to overcome theirs as well.


Mr. Freeman
He is the Art teacher who has his own issues with a school board, who will provide him with no supplies with which to teach. However, he is the only adult who tries to understand Melinda’s pain and encourages her to stand up for what she believes. He offers an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on if Melinda ever needs him. In the end, he also is one of those that helps her find her way to speaking again.

David Petrakis
He is Melinda’s biology lab partner and is one of the few students in the school who will speak to her. She comes to admire him very much for his brilliance; his willingness to stand up for what is right, and his patience for her. He, too, is a bastion of support when she needs it most and might just be a love interest for her in the future.

Andy Evans
Also known as IT or Beast or a wolf, he is the rapist who gets away with what he does to many girls, because he is good looking and charming and popular. He tortures Melinda psychologically every time he is near her, but she is the one who finally stops his terrible behavior.

Heather from Ohio
She is a new girl who befriends Melinda at the beginning of the school year. She is shallow and cold and uses Melinda when she needs her talents so as to become more popular among a clique known as the Marthas.

Rachel/Rachelle
Melinda’s best friend since elementary school, she is at the party where Melinda is raped. After Melinda calls the cops and the party is raided, she stops talking to Melinda and leads the way to making the girl an Outcast. She discovers the truth for herself in the end and finds her way back into their friendship.

Ivy
Another of Melinda’s friends, she, too, stops talking to her for a while, but sees in their Art class that Melinda is suffering great emotional pain. She slowly comes to understand Melinda and gives her a kind of unspoken support when she needs it the most.

Hairwoman
This is the name that Melinda gives her English teacher. She feels little more than contempt for her through most of the story, but comes to understand her better by the end and even feels some admiration for her. She is like Melinda in that she has to find her own way to satisfaction within her life.

Mr. Neck
He is the social studies teacher who also happens to be a racist. David Petrakis challenges the way Mr. Neck teaches through a lawyer hired by his parents and Mr. Neck is forced to give ground or lose his job.

Principal Principal
This is Melinda’s name, obviously, for the principal of her school. He is the subject of ridicule and not really a fully fleshed out character. This is significant in that he has no depth in the way he works in the school and so generates no respect.

The Jocks, the Country Clubbers, the Idiot Savants, the Cheerleaders, Marthas, etc.
These are names of clans that the students at Merryweather High School have formed to have friends and create some kind of meaning to what they accomplish in school. They seldom associate with each other and every member is controlled by what the clan expects. They can also be referred to as cliques.


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