I survived high school. I even look back on it fondly. Normally just unusual, it is a miracle considering that during the time I was there nine kids died in car accidents and an equal number (that I know of, I’m sure there were more) either had babies or abortions. These were not kids that I had just heard about. These were my good friends. In retrospect, I realize that my escaping alive and without at least one pregnancy under my belt is akin to running through a minefield unscathed. There were only 200 kids in our entire high school.
Perhaps that is why I am already bracing myself for my daughters turn to walk through that battlefield. However, yesterday I read a book that gave me a little hope. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is exceptional. It is well written, engaging, funny and heartbreaking. But, most importantly I believe that it will save people’s lives. It is written as a journal of a freshman girl, Melinda, who is coping with the shame and burden of an acquaintance rape. That makes it sound grim, but it is not. It is so well written, and so perfectly captures the essence of high school, that you find yourself simultaneously laughing while desperately worrying about Melinda.
In the early chapters, I was alarmed at the prospect of my daughters reading this book. Then I glanced at the back where Ms. Anderson has a one page blurb about book censorship. She so articulately expressed the importance of having our children use books to learn and talk about the real challenges they face, that I felt enlightened. I realize this book will help, not just girls, but all kids learn to ‘Speak’ about some extremely difficult issues that no adult led discussion could. She says, “Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.” I’m just grateful that she managed to express this very painful truth of the world in such an accessible and engaging way. I’m not going to give this book to my nine year old yet, but I will definitely have her read it before she enters high school. Laurie Halse Anderson is my new favorite author of all time, and she isn’t even writing books for me. I recommend this book to any adult who is not totally afraid of reliving a part of high school.
– Jessica Wheeler