Banned Book Highlight: “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

Cover of "Speak." Image courtesy of

Melinda Sordino starts her first day of high school like any other teenager. She has seven new notebooks, a skirt she hates and a stomachache.

Throughout the first chapters of Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak,” Melinda seems like your average teenage girl. She struggles with her identity, family and a new school.

However, her best friends have abandoned her after an incident at a summer party. Without anyone to turn to, Melinda deems herself an outcast. She finds comfort in art class and the poet Maya Angelou.

But Melinda is holding onto a secret. A secret that threatens to destroy her and any hope for her future.

Melinda was raped.

According to The American Library Association, “Speak” was one of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books between 2000 and 2009. It is most frequently challenged for what is considered to be explicit sexual content.

In 2010, an associate professor at Missouri State University challenged “Speak.” He deemed the discussion of rape as “soft pornography.” To him, the novel was “filthy” and lacked morality.

The associate professor, Wesley Scroggins, was partially correct in his statement. Rape, or any kind of sexual abuse, is immoral. But to victims, it is a reality.

An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, according to The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. 1 out of 6 American women will become victims of rape or attempted rape.

Melinda is one of those women. Throughout the novel, she struggles to find the voice her rapist stole from her. She calls him “The Beast,” and he’s a senior who taunts her in the hallways. Her isolation and fear is painfully real.

The novel is incredibly effective in its use of character and voice to explore such a difficult subject. Melinda is authentic, which makes it easy for readers to connect with her. Imagery and symbolism express the intense emotions Melinda must grapple with on the way to her recovery.

I first read “Speak” when I was a freshman in high school, just like Melinda. Her interiority mirrored mine. She is hilarious, flawed and empathetic.

She is a young woman trying to navigate trauma in the only way she knows how. Melinda is a voice for thousands of victims who are trying to remember how to use their own.

Although published 19 years ago, Anderson’s novel remains socially relevant. The stories of survivors continue to be heard more and more. For example, on Thursday, Sept. 27, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford recounted her experience with alleged sexual assault on the senate floor while the entire country watched.

Survivors like Melinda are beginning to realize the impact they can make by speaking up. And, finally, people are starting to listen.

“Speak” is a book that not only has the power to change lives, but to save them. Banning this book means silencing victims and their stories. If we truly want to help survivors of sexual abuse, then books like this one must be embraced.

You never know whose life it might change.

Savannah Winkler is a senior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to