by Laurie Halse Anderson
Analysis: Writing Style
Fresh, Sarcastic, Active, Full of Flashbacks, Poetic…
We love the fresh visual style of Speak. The short paragraphs and short chapters break things up in manageable chunks, loaded with emotional content. There is a fair amount of sarcasm as well, like this cynical gem: "Our cheerleaders are much better at scoring than the football team is" (12.17). The sarcasm seems to help Melinda cope with her crummy circumstances, while giving readers some relief from the darkness of her story. It also expresses her loss of faith in the human race, some of which she regains by the end of the novel.
Through Melinda's flashbacks, we learn the details of the rape that threatens to destroy her life. The emotional journey we are reading stems from that experience. The flashbacks help Melinda realize that she needs to start talking about the rape if she gets past it. They also, obviously, allow the reader to discover what it is that happened to Melinda to mess her up so badly.
The story is told primarily in the present tense, over the course of Melinda's freshman year of high school. This aspect of the style helps us get caught up in the emotions and the action, as if we are there with Melinda, experiencing the same inner and outer torments.
Although horrendous, Melinda's journey can also be quite beautiful and even downright poetic. For example, when Melinda revisits the site of her rape and makes peace, in a sense, with the place, we are told,
I dig my fingers into the dirt and squeeze. A small clean part of me waits to warm and burst through the surface. Some quiet Melindagirl I haven't seen in months. That is the seed I will care for. (85.13)
Melinda seems to be envisioning herself as a seed sprouting forth from the dirt where she was raped. This metaphor gives us with the kind of layered images and meanings often found in poetry. Melinda sees herself at this moment as turning into something new, while at the same time returning to the Melinda she was before she was raped. She's also seeing herself as someone who deserves to be cared for and cherished. The poetic mode helps highlight how important the moment is to her in stark contrast to her earlier sarcasm and cynicism.