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Study Guide: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - BookNotes

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SPEAK BY LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON: BOOKNOTES / STUDY GUIDE

THEMES

Strength of Character

The theme of strength of character is the most prevalent theme. Melinda nearly loses that strength completely as she shuts down emotionally, psychologically, and verbally. She cannot speak about what is unspeakable pain, until she learns from her experiences throughout the school year that she has to dig deep within herself to find the power to go on and to believe in herself again. She is actually one of the lucky ones, because she finds her way back to some semblance of normalcy. Many others never recover from such trauma.


Growing Up

The theme of growing up is also an important idea. Even though most high school students never suffer the trauma Melinda did, they do experience at one time or another what Melinda calls the One Big Hazing Activity: they all seek to belong, to be accepted in some way or another. No one wants to be so outcast that she belongs to no group nor has any friends, like Melinda. As a result, growing up is really difficult and high school is sheer torture. She says that if you survive high school, they let you become an adult. She just hopes itís worth it. This is Melindaís concept that for some kids, itís not worth it and that high school is a very traumatic experience.

Conformity

The theme of conformity is a theme which makes the reader think about how we torture each other in the name of belonging. We all must fear being alone so much that anyone who is different is ostracized. Melinda could find no way to conform after the summer party and must hide inside herself to survive. But, of course, the memories of what she endured at the hands of Andy Evans and later by her friends doesnít exactly make inside herself much better. She sincerely would like to be one of the conformists, but it is in being a non-conformist, even though it was label forced upon her, that makes her a stronger, better person.

The lesson from this theme involves a need to be aware of those in our society that we knowingly or unknowingly ostracize and trying to find a way to include them, too. Think of the pain that would disappear if we all were accepted for who we are. Of course, we all know that this would then become paradise or a utopia! However, in striving to make it come true, we can become better people.


MOOD

This story is filled with sadness, despair, fear, and loneliness throughout most of the novel. It is only when Melinda finds the strength to face all of these emotions that the mood changes to one of triumph and inspiration.


Laurie Halse Anderson - BIOGRAPHY

Laurie Halse Anderson was born Laurie Beth Halse (pronounced Haltz) on October 23, 1961 in Potsdam, New York. She grew up in Syracuse, New York and as a high school student she was lived abroad as an exchange student for 13 months. She lived on a pig farm in Denmark during that time. She attended Onondage Community College for two years and then transferred to Georgetown Univeristy, where she graduated in 1984 with a degree in Languages and Linguistics.

She married to Greg Anderson and has two daughters, Stephanie and Meredith. She later divorced Greg and she has married Scott Larrabee. She lives in Philadephia, Pennsylvania currently, but she plans to settle in Mexico, New York in the near future.

Laurie had been researching and working on a historical novel novel Fever 1793 since 1993, when she stopped to write this, her first novel to be published, Speak in 1999. Speak turned out to be an amazing success and it has been highly honored by critics and readers. She later completed and published her novel Fever 1793 in 2000.

She has written several other novels, including a follow-up to Speak. The novel Catalyst was published in 2002 and is set in the same high school as Speak. Some of the characters from Speak make brief appearances in Catalyst.

She can be visited at her website at www.writerlady.com.

Awards for Speak include:

A 2000 Printz Honor Book
A 1999 National Book Award Finalist
An Edgar Allen Poe Award Finalist
Winner of the Golden Kite Award
An ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Booklist Top Ten First Novel of 1999
A BCCB Blue Ribbon Book
An SLJ Best Book of the Year
A Horn Book Fanfare Title


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