by Laurie Halse Anderson
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Tone, an element of style, refers to the author's attitude toward the characters, the subject matter, and the audience. In Speak, we can hear Laurie Halse Anderson's voice behind the voice of fourteen-year-old Melinda Sordino, our narrator. Although Melinda has no clue how to deal with the fact that she was raped, we can tell that Anderson has very definite ideas. Anderson, in Speak, seems most concerned with advising and comforting victims of sexual abuse. She also seems very concerned with educating young people and others in recognizing signs of possible abuse in the people around them – and how to try to help.
Through Melinda, Anderson gives readers an example of how a young person being victimized might act, feel, and think. Through Mr. Freeman in particular, Anderson models ways to help if someone we know appears to be the victim of abuse. Through Principal Principal, the guidance counselor, and Melinda's parents, Anderson suggests that those who are supposed to be experts in handling kids are often the most blind.
As discussed in "What's Up With the Title?," Speak argues that victims of abuse need to talk about their experiences – for personal healing and to help protect others from predators and abusers. The tenth anniversary edition of the novel has lots of juicy bonus material from Laurie Halse Anderson, including an interview. In it, she says:
"There are lots of kids out there in Melinda's position—struggling with depression and teetering on the edge of disaster—but people don't pay attention unless they do something drastic. This makes me so angry I could scream…or better yet, write a book." ("Laurie Halse Anderson speaks about SPEAK" in Speak: 10th Anniversary Edition)
This quote suggests that while the novel is geared toward young adults, Anderson also hopes to reach parents, teachers, counselors, and school administrators, who she believes are letting down the kids who really need help.