Laurie Anderson’s Speak

Teenagers rarely think about the consequences that can arise for the simplest actions.  A victory celebration with some beer and a car can end two teenage lives as in Tears of a Tiger, and attending a senior end of the year party prior to starting your ninth grade year can also destroy lives.  All it takes is the irresponsible actions of one to damage countless lives.  The tale of Speak by Laurie Anderson is one such story.  Through no fault of her own, Melinda Sordino became a victim.  A victim of social conventions.  A victim to countless acts of bullying.   And, she became a victim of rape.

Had Melinda know that she would: be a rape victim, lose her friends, be mocked by the entire school, and terrified to speak to anyone; she would have likely not gone to the party, drank alcohol and would have likely been waiting for her attacker with the upper hand, sober.  The first thing that comes to mind is to discuss this book and how each small action has major implications.


There are several topics that are great for both discussion and writing in this book.  I think a fun one would be to parallel Hairwoman’s writing assignments (perhaps my students would believe that other kids must write papers as well).  When Melinda is told to write about the symbolism of Hawthorne, they could write about the symbolism Anderson uses for characters(like the Marthas)  or places (like the school without an identity).


Undoubtedly, there could be some great discussion about cliques and who and why people belong, or don’t.  With luck some may even see the idiocy of the system and make an effort not to participate as a stereotype, but as a member of the same school.


I think an interesting project to do with this book would be to have students try to explain why Melinda never spoke up to protect herself.  Why did it take the IT, Andy Evans, coming after her ex-best friend and a foreign exchange student, to provoke Melinda into action to help someone — not herself?

Another interesting topic would be to have the students make there own piece of art to represent Melinda like one of Mr. Freeman’s projects. Image from:

Perhaps I could recommend students watch the movie Speak and discuss similarities/differences and maybe ponder if the film would have been more successful post Twilight, since it stars Kristen Stewart.


One thought on “Laurie Anderson’s Speak

  1. I wonder, too, about making some of these assignments more personal. how can you invite your students’ experiences and lives into the classroom more? I think that’s one of the beauties of YA lit: it touches teens where they live. I actually love Speak as a mentor writing text. That early section with the rules of high school–brilliantly written, terrific model text to having students write their own list of ironic rules.


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