Speak ALS Top 100 Banned Books


Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Hannah Cupp, Co-Editor

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is ranked 25th on the ALA’s list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2010–2019. It has been challenged for “rape, bias against male students, obscene language, glorification of drinking, drug use, and premarital sex”, and almost every other reason someone could imagine (Marshall University, Cynthia Varady, Medium). Speak is a novel about a girl named Melinda Sordino who undergoes sexual assault at a party. She has to face the stresses of high school as a freshman, made worse by the stress of facing her attacker. While her sexual assault is a major not only plot point throughout the novel, but a piece of Melinda, it is not the theme of the novel nor the key takeaway readers are supposed to have.

Books get banned for a number of reasons, especially when taken at face value. Speak is banned in many states for the sexual assault Melinda faces in the novel, however, if someone were to read it for what it is, a work of literature written to show the power that rumors and popularity have on high schoolers, then it would be evident that it should not be banned. Popularity, more so its dangerous effect, is a major theme throughout Speak. Characters like Ivy and Rachel belittle Melinda because of their social status in the school. Rachel even denies Melinda’s rape because her boyfriend, Andy Evans was the attacker. Rumors are spread about Melinda “squealing” and then her “lying about being raped” because of her popularity. Because she told Rachel what happened to her, people spread rumors about her making it up in an attempt to save the reputation of Andy. 

The power of Melinda’s sexual assault is also a major key throughout the novel. She bites her lips, goes mute, and her grades drop dramatically due to her rape. One of the final sentences in the novel is, “I said no.” Which alone, shows the power she finally gains as her attacker tries to strike again. Her strength is clear, which I think is the biggest takeaway from the novel. No matter what he did to her, she still had the power to say no for the last time, and she knew that at that moment, watching the lacrosse girls run for help, he would never get hurt anyone again. 

The empowerment the character displays is the theme of the novel. Melinda got to stand up for herself after suffering through everyones’ taunts that entire school year. Mascots changed as she did, her trees changed form, and with all of that change, she got to grow. That empowerment and true depth is why Speak should not be banned.