Conversation is a part of life. In almost all of the books that we have read this semester (the exception being The Arrival), conversation is a normal and frequent part of the story line. Characters regularly speak to one another and their dialogue is very evenly distributed, with all participants in the conversation contributing more or less equally.
However, in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, we find ourselves with a unique main character named Melinda. Due to her traumatic past, Melinda rarely speaks. Readers get a deep look inside her mind as she narrates the story, and she explains how words either get caught in her throat or she feels that she has nothing to say, leading to her silence.
This makes Speak unique in two ways. First, readers are given much more insight into what Melinda thinks and feels than are any of the people that she interacts with in the story. She is a mystery to most of her peers, teachers, and family, but the reader knows exactly what is going on within her mind, and is thus able to sympathize with her. It creates a stereotypical image of her parents, who do not understand anything going on in their teenager’s life, but it is extended to a more dramatic level in that the reader can see that literally nobody in the story has any idea how Melinda feels. By forming Melinda as a nearly speechless character, Anderson forces the reader to pay attention to Melinda’s actions and determine who she is based on the random acts that she does, along with the way that she portrays her life through art. Melinda may not have much to say, but there is much for the reader to learn about her through her unique, creative ways of letting her emotions out.
Second, Anderson provides a very interesting portrayal of the way that conversation works in the way that conversations are formatted in Speak. They are written as if it is a screenplay, with a new line starting with the character’s name, a colon following it, and whatever they said, every time that a character speaks. This highlights how silent Melinda normally is, because conversations often consist of several lines of one character speaking, followed by “Me: [empty line]” for Melinda. This style of formatting could be considered a commentary on how conversations can feel for introverts in reality, because since Melinda is narrating this story, it makes it clear that she is very aware of how unbalanced the conversations she partakes in are. Some people naturally have more things to say than others, while others have much more going on purely within their heads, and Anderson recognizes and portrays this phenomenon quite effectively. All in all, Speak is unlike any book that we have read to date, because in keeping with the theme its title suggests, conversations are portrayed and formatted to show the unique ways that they sometimes happen in real life.