For those of you who use twitter, or are pretty religious blog readers, you're probably aware of the recent controversy regarding Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK, as well as Sarah Ockler's TWENTY BOY SUMMER and Vonnegut's SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE. Professor Wesley Scroggins is trying to get these books banned in the town of Republic, Missouri. He's so far claimed that SPEAK is "pornographic and immoral." But honestly, I'm more worried what it says about him that he finds a book that deals with rape to be pornographic.
Though I have yet to read SPEAK, it is in my TBR pile (and I promise to write a review once I actually get to it). But for those of you not familiar with the story, here's a summary from Amazon:
In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager. Divided into the four marking periods of an academic year, the novel, narrated by Melinda Sordino, begins on her first day as a high school freshman. No one will sit with Melinda on the bus. After school, students call her names and harass her; her best friends from junior high scatter to different cliques and abandon her. Yet Anderson infuses the narrative with a wit that sustains the heroine through her pain and holds readers' empathy. A girl at a school pep rally offers an explanation of the heroine's pariah status when she confronts Melinda about calling the police on a summer party, resulting in several arrests. But readers so not learn why Melinda made the call until much later: a popular senior raped her that night and, because of her trauma, she barely speaks at all. Only through her work in art class, and with the support of a compassionate teacher there, does she begin to reach out to others and eventually find her voice. Through the first-person narration, the author makes Melinda's pain palpable: "I stand in the center aisle of the auditorium, a wounded zebra in a National Geographic special." Though the symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed, it is effective. The ending, in which the attacker comes after her once more, is the only part of the plot that feels forced. But the book's overall gritty realism and Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired.
Other books that come to mind when we're talking about the gritty realism teens face are Lucy Christopher's STOLEN (one of my all-time favorite books), and Elizabeth Scott's LIVING DEAD GIRL (which I actually wrote a review of). Stockholm Syndrome, kidnapping, child abuse, etc. are all things that are common in our society, but are rarely written about. I fully support those authors who take the time to bring up these topics and try to get kids talking. For all you know, the girl sitting next to you in class may be a rape victim who finds comfort in a book like SPEAK. The fact that authors are writing about things teenagers encounter and suffer is important. Bad things happen to people all the time, and we're not helping them by sweeping it under the rug.
I speak from experience.
For those of you who are not aware, I spent two months last year living in Galway, Ireland. It was for a study abroad program, and I was supposed to have spent four months there. However, after being sexually assaulted outside a bar, I found myself too afraid to remain in the city. I'd lost all of my confidence, and I didn't feel safe. I still remember how terrified I was that night. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for over an hour, then managed to get in contact with my best friend back in the US. And while she helped to calm me down, I don't think I ever got over it. No, I wasn't raped, but I could have been if the guy hadn't been so drunk. But he left marks that didn't fade for a few days. Sometimes I'll look down at my arms and still see the bruises.
A year later, I've regained a lot of my confidence. I haven't lost faith in people, but I'm certainly more careful. I still prefer to stay away from bars when going out, and I make sure to take my guys with me when I do. I'm vigilant in making sure my girl friends are all safe. 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and I'm trying to make sure none of my friends have to go through what I did. It was the most terrifying few minutes of my life, and I can recall them now with perfect accuracy. Things like that don't fade. They stay with you, but I'm trying to use those feelings as motivation, rather than a hindrance.
But for those women and men we can't save, it's important that books like SPEAK be available. I've found comfort in the strength some of these characters have. It reminds me that I'm not alone.
And that is why I Speak Loudly.