I read Speak when I was in grade eight, and it made me sign up for Art the next year. It made me value my words, and the power they carry, that much more. It made me think before I spoke.
For those of you who haven't read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, it's a book about a girl named Melinda Sordino who begins her freshman year refusing to say anything, due to a trauma explained later in the book. Spoilers below, please scroll down quickly if you don't want to read them!
Melinda got drunk at a party a few weeks before freshman year, and was raped by senior Andy Evans. She calls 911 and cops bust the party--once the school year starts, she is alienated by all her old friends, and because she doesn't tell anyone what really happened, she falls into a deep depression.
Melinda spends most of her time in art class, or holed up in an abandoned janitor's closet she claims as her own, not saying a word to anyone. When her friend Rachel starts dating Andy Evans, though, Melinda feels obligated to tell her about the rape.
It's a very emotional, moving book that deals with all sorts of feelings of isolation, guilt and depression. I think it should be a definite must-read for all teenagers and adults. But apparently not everyone feels the same way.
Enter a man named Wesley Scroggins. He's both associate professor of management at Missouri State University and was a speaker at Reclaiming Missouri for Christ. I don't have anything against his religious beliefs, but I do have something against him calling Speak filthy and immoral. He called it soft porn, because it has two rape scenes.
1) The idea of sex itself is in no way the main point of the book.
2) How is rape soft porn? That part really disgusts me.
My main argument, however, is against the idea that kids and teens shouldn't be reading books like Speak because they can't handle them. Rape is a topic that teens need to know about, and keeping it out of the school system won't stop it from happening. As Veronica Roth said in her brilliant post on the subject: The world is broken. No matter how much time you spend covering your eyes, and covering your children's eyes, the world will still be broken when you uncover them., you can't shelter your kids forever. In my mind, sure, a seven-year-old probably shouldn't be reading Speak. But teenagers always read above their level, and reading about the horrible, ugly parts of the world help us to better understand the good as well as the bad. Just because you read a mystery novel about a psychopath doesn't mean you're going to go out and kill a dozen people.
Reading is just as much about what you take away from the book as what the book actually says. And reading a book like Speak definitely helped me better understand my classmates, and my world.
For a much more coherent piece on the subject, check out Laurie Halse Anderson's website here.
I don't think you have to give your kids, or the young people you know, free reign to read anything they want. Obviously some books are inappropriate until the ready is "ready". But you can't shield their eyes forever, and reading is all about choice. Who do I want to be today, what do I want to learn about today, what do I need to know?