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September 17, 2013

ReaLITy Reads: Cara’s Response to SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

By Cara S.

Realistic fiction is a unique genre in YA because it illustrates challenging situations you may not have personally experienced but connects you to emotions you have. Whether it's uncovering life-altering secrets, making a tough choice, coming to terms with your sexuality or finding your voice, realistic fiction addresses themes relevant to real life. To highlight some of their fantastic realistic fiction, Macmillan established their ReaLITy program. Our Teen Board decided to check out these reads and respond to them in this blog series.

I have always been that outspoken, perhaps over-opinionated girl in class. However, SPEAK is about a girl who practically stops talking, one who almost wants to be invisible. At first, I found Melinda hard to relate to. When I read the book originally several years ago, I still liked it but not with the same passion as one of my best friends to whom SPEAK is the best book in the known universe. Later though, I found myself pondering the book, and I realized it made me uncomfortable. You see, I had a rough start to high school, as well (though fortunately not nearly as bad as Melinda’s).

When I started freshman year, I was so excited to be going to the same school as my five-year-long best friend. Then I started to notice some changes in her behavior towards me: the mean almost-jokes about me being weird, the laughing with her new best friend while looking at me and just the general drifting away of our friendship. People change and as they do, sometimes friendships just fall apart. I understand that. It was what came soon after we stopped hanging out together that really, for lack of a better word, sucked. Rumors were spread about me that were both untrue and horrifying, not to mention some embarrassing secrets were spilled. Yet I never spread any secrets or rumors about my former friend in return, thanks mostly to a pesky moral compass. Rumors have that ripple effect, spreading and getter more slanderous each time, as Melinda probably saw as well. By the end of that year, I had become a bit of a social pariah and experienced a serious drop in self confidence and self respect.

While Melinda turned to art, books were my safe zone. During that time, I went through one or two a day, tuning out the high school drama as best as I could. A few remaining friends and a really nice lab partner “Mandy” (like David in the book), helped me get through the day, too, though I was always too proud to talk to them about all the nasty things being said about me. The next year though, things eventually got better. A great teacher inspired a love for biology (my version of Mr. Freeman), I got involved in a club that is one of my favorite high school memories, and I met my current best friends, who have taught me what genuine friendship means.

I tried to put all the negative stuff behind me and have kept a cheerful attitude since. So when I read the book the first time in junior year, it brought up painful memories, and I just did not want to like it. I suppose time allowed for subconscious reflection, though, since when I choose this book to reread, the words sort of poured out. In the long run, my experience made me stronger, more confident and partly shaped the path I am on today. I still have momentary lapses of being insecure or slow to consider someone as a friend, but I know I can get past them. I would like to think that Melinda, if she was real, would feel the same way after everything. Oh and for those struggling with the same sort of thing or just anything hard: patience and a dedication to not let it define you for the rest of your life and to move forward will make it better. I promise.