Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Club Meeting: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

At our September meeting, my book club discussed Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Since I haven't written about the book, I'll direct you to Molly's review for some background. Many bloggers have read and reviewed Speak, but it was Molly's review that prompted me to finally read the book.

Nine of us met for coffee at a member's home on a gray, rainy morning. She surprised us with muffins and fruit salad. After some catch-up conversation, mostly centered around our high school and college aged children, we quickly moved on to the book discussion.

First, we noted what a departure this was from our usual reading fare. In ten years, we have never chosen a YA title. Speak made the cut, in part, because it appeared on the 11th grade summer reading list (a few of us have 11th graders) and because I picked up a copy for a dollar at last summer's book sale and brought it to a meeting (a book physically present always seems to have a better chance of "winning").

Our next discovery was that everyone had read the book! This may not be remarkable for most groups, but it is worth noting when it happens to us. Several members tend to abandon books that are too long, too hard, or too depressing. Perhaps we should periodically include YA selections!

From there, it was on to the book itself. We were all impressed that Anderson really seemed to get it right. How could someone over 30 capture the high school voice and concerns so perfectly? We saw flashes of our children's experiences, and had many of our own brought back as well. The unanimous consensus was that none of us wants to go back!

Not only did Anderson get the voice, she hit nailed the location. Anderson graduated from the high school in a neighboring town, and we couldn't help but laugh at lines like "The sun doesn't shine much in Syracuse, so the art room is designed to get every bit of light it can." Her description of the cold and winter weather rang true, too. I'm not sure if the mascot controversy she wrote of actually occurred, but her old high school's teams are still known as the Hornets. However, I, thankfully, have not heard the chant "We are the Hornets.... the horny, horny hornets!"

For a little in the way of plot background, the main character, Melinda, was raped at a summer drinking party. She called the police, who descended upon the party, but never reported the rape. Melinda became an outcast at school the following year, and eventually stopped speaking.

The majority of our discussion focused on the self-esteem of teenage girls and the intense peer pressure present in the high school. A couple members had an edition with extra material, including an author interview in the back (I did not). In it, Anderson noted that in talking with readers about the book, she was shocked to discover that most teen-age boys have little understanding of rape or it's consequences. She said several boys raised the point that it wasn't actually rape because Melissa didn't object (not seeing the problem in her being too drunk to protest). We also spent quite a bit of discussion time on this issue, as well.

Overall, we loved the book and had a very stimulating discussion. In the end, we realize that, as parents, the most important thing we can do is strive to maintain the same level of involvement and communication with our own teens as we had when they were younger. We all need to keep speaking!


  1. I always enjoy this inside view to your meetings. I wouldn't go back either...not that it was horrible...just that life became more interesting, exciting and fulfilling after high school. The background info on Anderson was very interesting. I have thought about picking up Wintergirls but too much other reading on hand for the time being.

  2. Anderson definitely has her fan base here in the blog world, but I haven't personally read any of them yet. As I have a daughter that is almost 12, I suppose I need to get started.

    And no, I would never want to go back. It is bad enough that I am facing the whole thing the second time around with my kids :(

  3. I haven't read the book, but it's one I'd like to get my hands on as soon as possible. I hear the movie is great, though I haven't seen it either.I'd rather read the book first.

    Thanks for reminding me of Speak!

  4. She said several boys raised the point that it wasn't actually rape because Melissa didn't object (not seeing the problem in her being too drunk to protest). The fact that so many people think this makes me SO upset. Sadly, it's not just teenagers either :/ This is such an important book - and Laurie Halse Anderson REALLY got it right.

  5. I am glad that this book being read by your high schoolers. It is an important subject to discuss with our teens and this book may open communication.

  6. sounds like a great meeting. how nice to be surprised with muffins! :-)

  7. I feel like this book has been on my TBR list forever! I really need to read it.

  8. I love that line about Syracuse. I grew up in upstate New York (I mean, WAY upstate) and went to college in Rochester. The rain, clouds, and snow were legendary among students from outside the area. One day it snowed two inches and my friend from Maryland couldn't believe they didn't cancel classes.

    I've never read this book but my 14-year-old sister has the Platinum Special Addition with author Q&A in the back. I'll have to ask her about it.

  9. Book Psmith - I'm glad you enjoy our meetings! High school wasn't bad for me either, but life has just kept getting better ever since. Wintergirls was a book I was thinking of for the read-a-thon (before I realized there was a conflict with Parents' Weekend).

    Sandy - If your daughter is 12, it's nearly that time ;-) I'll definitely read more of Anderson.

    Ivana - I didn't know it was a movie! Now I need to go check Netflix.

    Nymeth - That attitude infuriates me! It may be hard to change the views of adults, but we REALLY need to reach teens. It is an important book.

    Nise' - I hope this book does lead to many conversations ...not just between teens and parents, but among teens.

    Marie - The meeting ended up lasting almost three hours! It must have been the muffins that kept us going.

    Reviewsbylola - It's a very quick book, and I'm sure you'll be glad you read it!

  10. E.L. Fay - That line does capture upstate NY ;-) We all know it takes a LOT more than two inches of snow to cancel anything around here - lol!

    I may need to spend some time in the library or bookstore and read that additional material ...sounds like it would be time well spent.

  11. A perfect book for prompting discussion. I worry about the mental health of young women who have experienced this down the road. A brave topic, an unsettling read but one that needs to be dealt with.

  12. It is interesting that you had all read the book. Sounds like the aspect of high school I'd like to forget.

  13. I really need to read this book. I love hearing what book clubs like yours think about what they've read. Thanks for the update Joanne.

  14. We read this book in our book group (now disbanded) a while ago and we all really enjoyed it and thought Anderson had done a wonderful job in capturing the characters. I am yet to read more of her work though...

  15. Darlene - I knew there would be no shortage of discussion with this one! Definitely a topic that needs to be addressed.

    Stacybuckeye - I often wonder if other groups have the struggle to get members to read the book...

    Diane - I'm glad you enjoy these posts. I love reading about other people's book clubs on their blogs, too!

    Karen - I think this was an excellent book for discussion and hope to read more by Anderson.

  16. We find the same is true, that a book with a physical presence at a meeting has a better shot of getting voted in!

    I haven't read anything by Laurie Halse Anderson, but you're nudging me to try her, SPEAK in particular.

  17. Dawn - Funny how the 'must be present to win' mentality takes over at the selection meeting ;-)
    If you don't get to it before then, Speak would be a great book to read and discuss with your daughter when she gets a little bit older.

  18. I read this one a year or two ago. It really was the one that started my love of YA. High school wasn't miserable for me, but I do think she got it right.

  19. I thought this was excellent too!

    My club is reading our first YA book in December - The Book Thief - though I really think it's just as appropriate for adults.

  20. Lisa - I think I'll remember this as the book that got me started on YA lit, too.

    Tara - I've got The Book Thief coming up soon, too!

  21. I will look for this book-as the father of three girls 11, 13, and 16 it seems like a very good book0I enjoyed your book club description a lot

  22. Mel U - I have three daughters, too - all late teens. I do think this is an important book. We had a great discussion!


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