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Themes

Melinda Sordino, the fourteen-year-old star of Speak, loses the ability to communicate after she is sexually assaulted at a party. Instead of speaking out about what happened to her, she bottles up her pain inside, hoping that if she doesn't speak about it, she'll forget what happened to her. Laurie Halse Anderson's powerful novel follows Melinda as she re-learns to talk. She finds lots of other ingenious modes of communication in the meantime. Some of these are effective, like channeling her emotions into art and science. Others, like sending distress signals to the outside world by scratching her wrists, don't communicate what she wants them to. She learns that silence has a place and a purpose, but that sometimes speaking loudly, risky as it can be, is necessary.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. What is Melinda's biggest motivation for talking about the rape? Explain your answer.
  2. What is her biggest motivation for not talking about it?
  3. Is it possible that some victims heal and recover even if they don't talk about being sexually assaulted? Should a person's right not to speak be respected?
  4. Besides talking, what are some of the ways people express themselves in this novel?
  5. Why does Melinda stutter when she tries to talk to parents and teachers?
  6. How much of Melinda's silence is voluntary? How much is beyond her control?
  7. Which people in the novel are interested in and willing to listen to Melinda's story? Who isn't interested?
  8. How would the novel be different if more people were willing to listen? Would Melinda have spoken up sooner, or did she need time in order to process what had happened to her before she could speak about it?
  9. Why do the girls at Merryweather write messages about Andy on the bathroom walls instead of speaking about him?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Mr. Freeman is the only person in the novel who is really interested in hearing what has been bothering Melinda.

Speaking is the most challenging but rewarding form of communication; art and writing (such as on the bathroom wall) will never give Melinda the kind of relief that speaking can.

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