Honest and lively YA book reviews
Ah .... Laurie Halse Anderson! We meet again!
Fortunately she has redeemed herself in my eyes since I read and then promptly shredded Catalyst. Speak has an entirely different quality in that I actually give a crap about the main character, Melinda. She's wonderfully written. Her voice as narrator is genuine, endearing and engaging. I read this book in a day because I couldn't put it down.
I hated high school. I hated the popularity contest. I hated the race to be the best, to have the best grades, to be athletic, to fit in. It was hell. I was a nobody. I was snobby and looked down on my peers with disdain and never made a single friend. I'm a genius and never had to work to achieve my grades so ended up with a lot of free time on my hands which I used to become bitter and cynical and isolated. Not an entirely productive use if my time, I'll admit. I can relate to Melinda's struggle to feel accepted and her negativity toward the whole High School Experience. She turns her nose up at pep rallies, she has no respect for her teachers and she shuns the idea of finding a "clan" - a group of friends who share her ideas, opinions and dreams. Of course, Melinda cannot find a clique, not because she is a bitch like I was, but because her experiences and troubles do not fit with everyone else's. She went through an incredibly traumatic ordeal during summer break which ended in her calling the cops to a party where several people where arrested which resulted in her being shunned by her friends due to this outcome of which nobody knows what really happened to her.
Melinda loses her voice. Not literally. She is able to speak but can't because she doesn't know how to voice what happened to her. She doesn't know who she can trust and feels guilt and shame about her attack. She has a shit home life where her parents have their own issues to deal with. All her friends hate her. The book is heartbreaking in this sense. Melinda feels forced to deal with the situation alone because she, for a long time cannot admit even to herself what happened that night. It's a very bleak read for much of the story. The beauty of it is that Anderson created the character of Melinda in a way that she could be a real kid. She could be that kid you see eating their lunch alone and sliding through school, eyes lowered, disengaged from those around them, just trying to get through another day without breaking down. The language used and the thought processes narrated felt believable and realistic for a teenager.
I knock a star off my rating due to a couple of points. I felt the whole deal with David Petrakis was a little grating. I'm not saying he wasn't a likeable character, he was but I just find it hard to believe the whole suing the teacher debacle, and video cameras and tape recorders in class? Really? I also find it difficult to buy into the fact that he attempted to befriend Melinda. She's completely shut off from the world, living inside her head, tormented by her experience and yet he bounds up to her at the basket ball game and asks her over to his house for pizza. I just don't see this happening. Melinda has put up such a tight wall, I honestly don't believe a teenage boy would have the confidence or insight to make an effort to break this down.
My second issue with the book is the use of the tree as symbolism for Melanie's renewal and growth. It's a cute idea but it's really done to death within the story until, in fact it begins to lose meaning and edge. Particularly when the tree surgeon arrives to doctor the tree in her front yard and her father stands and proclaims that once the dead, diseased branches of the tree are cut away it will grow back stronger than before. Barf. It was all too much. There's no need to beat the reader over the head with a tree branch to hammer home the point that Anderson is trying to make regarding the fact that Melanie needs to deal with her situation rather than hide from it, in order to leave it behind and move on. Please, we're not stupid.
Generally though, the difficult subject matter was dealt with brilliantly. Melanie's isolation and introspection is brutal yet not over the top. Having Melanie's attacker still attending school there with her gave a feeling of suspense and discomfort. I can't even begin to imagine what an horrendous situation this must be and the fact that this is not a fictitious issue for some people is just heartbreaking. Oh, and I'm so happy she told that bitch Heather where to go in the end. I wouldn't have been so diplomatic though if I'd been Melanie in that situation.
Such an interesting read, so sad, frightening and thought-provoking. I enjoyed the ending very much though. It was hopeful, which I think was the perfect way to leave it.