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29 March 2006 @ 06:49 am
Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK (5 stars)  
“You are getting better at this, but it’s not good enough. This looks like a tree, but it is an average, ordinary, everyday, boring tree. Breathe life into it. Make it bend – trees are flexible, so they don’t snap. Scar it, give it a twisted branch – perfect trees don’t exist. Nothing is perfect. Flaws are interesting.”

Sections like this from Laurie Halse Anderson’s debut YA novel Speak surprised me. It’s just an art project tree right? Wrong. Everything’s so much more.

No wonder no one’s speaking to Melinda. She called the cops and ruined the party. Narc! The problem is she hasn’t told anyone why. Would anyone believe her anyway? Anderson’s clever style feeds us clues about the party in small doses. Whatever happened there (No, I’m not going to tell you), Melinda doesn’t want to talk about it, or much of anything else, taking us on a journey with her down into her psyche and back out again.

I found myself enjoying the small stuff the novel has to offer. The fast pace of the present tense. The unnumbered concrete chapters. The lack of indents. The character Rachel/Rachelle with a / in her name. The four report cards. The kissy mark on the page. The three point vocabulary words. And the dialogue that reads like a play.

The novel seamlessly spans an entire school year, allowing Melinda enough time to begin to take her life back into her own hands. It takes the art teacher, an unlikely hero, to care enough to supply an outlet for her to discover who she is in light of all that has happened. And who would have thought seeds could mean so much? Riddled with symbolism of rebirth and life, the novel offers hope in the middle of the darkest times.

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(Deleted comment)
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephensjonstephens on March 29th, 2006 05:27 pm (UTC)
I know. We'll see what happens with it. Can a book feel too fast? See you at PFL.