Margin Notes

Speak-The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll


It’s been at least a decade since I first read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson but the story is one so brilliantly crafted that it has never left me. In every school I have visited this year, I see students reading Speak, transfixed by it, and I know they are rooting for the main character Melinda, just as I did.

Melinda, returning to school in September is the social outcast. She is sometimes ignored and sometimes mocked, and even her best friend rejects her. This wasn’t always Melinda’s life, and it is the aftermath of what happened at a summer party where she was sexually assaulted (this is the part nobody knows) and called 911. All that is known is that the party was busted by police, people were arrested, and the newest rule at Merryweather is that being friends with Melinda is a social death sentence. Alongside the main theme of finding your voice, topics such as the hypocrisy of high schools, self-absorbed parents, and loneliness are also explored.

As with other novels by Laurie Halse Anderson, the internal narration in Speak is one of the most powerful elements, so when I was recently handed a graphic version of the novel, I have to admit, I was hesitant to read it. How could such a powerful story be re-created in another form? Would it be a letdown after the original version of Speak? Would readers be able to make the same connection to Melinda? Full disclosure: I did not have high hopes for this book.

And then I read it. In one sitting. And it’s beautiful. And if it’s not even more powerful, it’s at least as powerful.

Laurie Halse Anderson writes in the forward of the graphic version that this has been a form she had long wanted to see Speak written in, but that she was waiting for the right illustrator, and she did just that. Emily Carrroll’s black and white artwork match Melinda’s mental state and the bleakness of her surroundings. The expressions on the faces of the adults allow the reader to understand even more so why she couldn’t speak about what happened for so long. And the overall feeling of the novel, the thing I think I was most worried would be lost…it’s still there.

What else the graphic version does, is it opens the story up to readers of different levels, which is important to note, because, unfortunately, we know that speaking up against sexual assault is still one of the most important topics of discussion.

So yes, read this book. Read it if you loved Speak and read it if you have never read Speak. Then leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Seriously, please do.  As always, you know what is best for your readers and at what time.

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