Last week I read something about one of my favorite books that really angered me. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I feel that this guy’s comments were ridiculous and out of line. He called Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson “child pornography” and said it promotes violence and sex in under-aged students and that the result is child abuse.
My response to this (minus the obscenities) was that he could not be more wrong.
While this guy goes through and cites all of the places he finds offensive in this book he has failed to see Speak‘s true message. Yes, this book has been challenged and/or banned in different schools, districts, etc. around the country for it’s subject matter, but it sends out a much more important message to children and adults, men and women alike.
Speak, if you haven’t read it, is about a young girl who is sexually assaulted at a party before her 9th grade year. She calls the police on her attacker and as a result loses all of her friends because they see her as a snitch. She is forced to attend school with her attacker and is bullied by her former friends and her peers. Her family isn’t supportive of her and she has no one to talk to about her horrific experiences, so she stop speaking all together. She finds solace in an un-used janitor’s closet and in her art work, which finally gives her a voice.
Yes, it is about a tough and touchy subject. But it is an important subject to teach children about.
Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, responded to this guy’s accusations with this “SPEAK is cautionary tale about the emotional aftermath of rape. It tackles bullying, depression, rape, sexual harassment, and family dysfunction. It teaches children that when bad things happen, they need to speak up, even when it’s hard. It has given hope to tens of thousands of readers since 1999. It is a standard in curriculum across the country.”
This book teaches children if they experience any of these things to speak up about it. There is help for them. Other people are experiencing or have experienced similar things. It shows them that they are not alone.
I spoke with a woman last week about how Speak helped her. She stated “I read the book in 9th grade. A year before then I had been a victim of sexual assault. This book was incredibly moving for me because I knew how she felt, it was like I was reading about me in a way. It really helped me cope with how I was feeling at the time. It helped me move on and realize that talking helped. It showed me that if you dont SPEAK then nothing can change or be resolved. Pornographic is not a word I would use to describe SPEAK . Deliverance has a scene which is certainly more pornographic and violent than anything this book touches on. I found it uplifting and motivational and triumphant as she confronts her attacker and her emotions. A superb read.”
Children younger than the 8th-10th graders who may read this book in school see things that are just as violent and/or sexual (or more so) than Speak on television. They hear worse language on the bus, in the hallway, and at home. Why are parents, administrators, and others getting so worked up over children reading a book about sexual assault and bullying? They are trying to shelter their children from the world that they live in, in the hopes of protecting them from society and things that are going on. However, sheltering your children from these subjects often does more harm than good.
Unfortunately, children are experiencing terrible things at young ages. This isn’t new. It has always happened. It’s just that young adult authors, like Laurie Halse Anderson, are starting to write about these difficult subjects from the point of view of the children experiencing them. And as a teacher, I realize that children (and adults) need these books. You would be amazed to know how many children are bullied, are depressed, or have been sexually assaulted. Even if they haven’t they need to know these things exist. They need to know that if it does happen to them that they have to speak up about it. They need to know that if they have a friend, a peer, or a family member that has had this happen to them that they should remain supportive and encourage them to get help.
If your child is reading Speak and you are unsure if they should be reading it, please do yourself a favor and visit your local library or bookstore and pick up the book yourself. If you can, read it while your child is reading it. Parents and their children can have great discussions about it. The book itself might upset you from time to time— it is a very hard subject to read about— but please finish it. You will be glad that you did.
In my opinion, Speak is a masterpiece. It is beautifully and thoughtfully written from the point of view of a teen who has experienced terrible things. Speak gives hope to victims of sexual assault. If it were in fact “child pornography” it would not have the positive effect it does on so many. It gives hope to those who feel alone and who feel like they have no one to turn to. As an adult who has had these experience in the past, it still gives hope to me.
Lastly, Laurie (if you ever happen to run across this post), thank you. Don’t let comments like this jerk’s stop you from writing your books. There are teenagers out there that need them. There are adults out there that can still relate to them. You are helping more people than you know. You have inspired countless teens to speak up. You have inspired many writers (both teens and adults) to write about the things that they have seen and experienced in their lives. Thank you so much.
Read Laurie’s response to Richard Swier’s attack against Speak here
If you’ve read Speak, I would love to know what you thought and how it effected you.