Sunday, September 18, 2011
Publisher: Speak (Penguin Group)
Genre: YA Contemporary
Melinda is starting her freshman year at high school with a new social status and a terrible secret. After she called the police during a party in the summer, she's ostracized and has lost all her friends. But nobody bothered to ask why she called them, and Melinda has not been able to speak about it. In fact, she's hardly able to speak at all. She struggles to keep going, to keep pretending everything is just fine, when nothing will ever be fine again. Her grades fall, her parents still don't pay attention to her, and worst of all, she has to see IT in and around school as well. The only thing that seems to be going for her is her art class, and she feels frustrated even with that. She just can't seem to feel anything, anything at all except fear and terror.
Wow. I'd read a lot about this book and wasn't sure I wanted to read it, since I knew it deals with rape. But this really is a teen book, so the word rape shows up only twice, on the same page, and the way the whole subject is dealt with is perfect for a teen.
I felt every part of the emotion of the story - the dull, plodding-along, non-feeling sliding into crazy-eye terror and a deep, dark ache that doesn't seem to have relief. Melinda tries to shut down everything, but when she can't block it out, the feeling jumps off the page and overwhelms me. It never lets up, but has some interesting interludes when Melinda can't control her laughter - and that brought tears to my eyes more than the rest of it.
The motif of the tree project in her art class is perfect in showing her changing and static emotions and states of mind throughout the book. Though her teacher says art will show emotion, and though he tries to interpret her art, nothing is ever so clear as he might think. Melinda's struggles with how to create good art parallel her struggles to appear normal while not stifling a huge part of herself.
Certain lines in the book capture the matter-of-fact despair that Melinda feels. One line that especially jumped out at me - "Maybe I'll be an artist if I grow up." She constantly says things like this, that show how the incident affected her so deeply that even when she thinks she's being normal, she can't really deal with it. She doesn't think "when" I grow up, but "if" - so much has her thought process changed that she doesn't even notice how off that sounds.
While this can't really be termed pleasure-reading, I think it's a very important book, not only for teens thinking about rape, but for teens struggling with any kind of impossible secret, anything that affects them in this sort of way. The book does not end with a happily-ever-after, nicely tied-up ending - but it does leave a message of hope, of strength and resilience and a light in the dark.