Awhile back, there was an awful controversy about a book called Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. (I included links to the articles below.) It was labeled pornographic and inappropriate for its age group (older Middle Grade to younger Young Adult).I read this book in order to consider the claims (thanks to Anne Shirako (a librarian, of course! (check out this triple-nesting)), who challenged me to do this). I listened to the book again just last week to makes sure of my own opinion before writing about it.
Speak tells the story of a vulnerable, thirteen year old freshmen girl, Melinda, who was raped at a party. Is this too heavy for young people to deal with?
I would like to put off answering this, first, by asking if it is the content we should be worried about, in a book, or how the content is portrayed? If we apply this latter question to Speak, we can easily see that the difficult subject matter is handled with care and compassion for Melinda and any young readers. In the offending scene, the trauma is addressed carefully. It is not physically graphic. It emphasizes how Melinda stumbled into the situation, and her following reaction: she calls the cops because she knows she needs help...but she is unable to speak. The book consists of the effects of rape on her psychology and emotions. Throughout the book, she struggles out of depression to get help.
Isn't this realistic?
The book is "clean" in the sense that most parents, teachers or other concerned adults would worry about. What shocked me was the insinuation that the book is pornographic. Whoever came to that conclusion twisted this book's quiet, sensitive realism. This book is about emotional healing and recovery, not gratuitous teenaged sex.
So, again I ask, is this age-appropriate material? Yes. It is. Because this could easily happen to an 8th-9th grade girl (or an older girl). They go to parties and get drunk, just like Melinda. If they are hurt in the same manner, if they are scared or if they just don't know what happened, how can they talk about it? By reading of a heroine just like them. Melinda is that perfect heroine.
Instead of banning books that include difficult subject matter, such as Speak, perhaps we should talk with teens and pre-teens about the ideas raised, even if we disagree with the book's opinion. Isn't that what young people need? Teenagers especially are looking for answers. I think young people do want to talk about hard things. Some may be more ready than others, of course, but they will rise to the occasion if they are interested. When I was a teen, I didn't want difficult subjects to be hidden from me, to protect me. I wanted to talk about them. Books like this pave the way for frank discussion that may otherwise be too difficult for the teen or parent (or teacher, or whoever) to initiate.
Not to mention that Speak raises issues teens will need to hear about before they get to adult literature, especially the classics. If teens read classics in school that deal with these subjects, why shouldn't they read about it in a way written specifically for them by authors who love and understand teenagers?
If you would like to see one of the articles that twists Speak's content out of context and recommends that schools ban it, click here. Unfortunately, he is a Christian. If you would like to read Laurie Halse Anderson's response, click here. Fortunately, she is also a Christian.