When I first read Speak, it was as the mother of a teenage daughter. It was difficult to read. As a parent, I couldn't imagine being so unaware of that my daughter was upset, let alone traumatized. However, as a woman, and as a class target in school, I couldn't help but put myself in Melinda's position, I couldn't help but feel her pain and her double, if not triple victimization. Melinda is truly heroic as she struggles to find her voice.
Rape and sexual abuse are not pornography. They are violence against women, plain and simple. They have existed and they continue to exist (alas). Speak is an important book because it can both show young women who have been raped that they are not alone, and, hopefully, inspire them to speak about their experience. For other young women, it can be one of those books that Katherine Paterson once described as the sort of book you read before you need it. For everyone else, it clearly shows the effect of rape.
Pulling a book about rape off the shelves will not make rape go away. The only thing that can do that is training young men to realize that the only sexual act that matters is one that is consensual.
I grew up in the Congregational Church. One of the things I continue to admire about Jesus is his embrace of society's outcasts and abused: the lepers, the prostitutes, the mad. I also remember, and try to live by, the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I can see ways it applies to the challenge to Speak, but I'd rather think of Speak as an example of what happens when teenagers forget that rule. Because for me, one of the more powerful aspects of Laurie Halse Anderson's novel was the way Melinda's classmates shunned her for calling the cops on the party.
A list of things you can do to speak out for freedom of speech, freedom to read, and to defend Speak from this challenge is posted on Laurie's blog. As Laurie notes, this challenge is happening not far from where Sherman Alexie's wonderful Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was banned earlier this month.
Prouder than ever of my prize from WFMAD