Speak is written especially for teens and tweens, both male and female, though it has much to offer adults too. Because Speak is told entirely from the point of view of Melinda Sordino, a fourteen-year-old high school freshman, it falls squarely into the young adult genre.
Laurie Halse Anderson takes pains to channel her inner fourteen-year-old and give Melinda a realistic voice. In an interview, Anderson says, "When I wrote Speak […] my kids were in elementary school. To get a sense of the rhythm of high school speech, I spent a lot of time at Taco Bell and the food court at the mall" ("Laurie Halse Anderson speaks about SPEAK" in Speak: 10th Anniversary Edition).
This confirms our suspicion that Anderson is trying to keep it real. She wants Speak to feel like the story of a real person. (No vampires in Merryweather High…) Of course, each reader gets to decide if Melinda sounds like an actual teen and if her story is believable.
Speak focuses on the hardest part of Melinda's life. All her high school dreams are crushed when Andy Evans rapes her at a high school-party before she starts her freshman year. When she starts high school, she's lost her virginity against her will. She's also lost all the people she thought were her friends and her ability to communicate with others. As Melinda struggles with the burden of her secret, she grows more and more depressed, and even begins mutilating her own body.
Melinda comes of age when she begins to take back her body, her mind, and her life, through various kinds of speech and action, from graffiti, drawing, painting, and note writing, to bike riding, to good old fashioned conversation. Eventually, she truly finds her voice when she says "NO" to Andy, loud and clear. The novel ends at the beginning of Melinda's transformation from suffering victim to strong young woman. And that's what coming-of-age novels are ultimately about – growing up and becoming a strong, independent adult.