Friday, 17 June 2011

Laurie Halse Anderson: Speak

This is classed as Young Adult Fiction, but is a good adult read too.  I read quite a bit of YA - all the classics as well as  JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Alan Garner, Michelle Lovric, Jackie Wilson, Judy Blume and quite a few more I stumble on.  Once I prowled through the bookshelves for my own children, now I do it for their children.  The quality always impresses me.  Writing for children and Young Adults has to be good.  You can't get away with a dodgy plot, masses of description, pretentious writing.  The story-line has to be strong and clear, the writing has to be exact and the narrative compelling.  Oh, and the characters have to be ones that you can recognise and have a conversation with.

Speak, (If only  I could find the Words) is one of the best I've read.  It's set in America, but isn't too american for an english audience.  The story is Melinda's.

'It is my first morning of high school.  I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomach ache .......  I am clanless.  I wasted the last weeks of August watching bad cartoons.  I didn't go to the mall, the lake, or the pool, or answer the phone.  I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude.  And I don't have anyone to sit with.   I am Outcast.'

Melinda has been cast off by her friends (because of something that happened at the beginning of summer) and has stopped speaking, even to her family. She is obviously deeply troubled. We find out why about half way through the book - and it isn't the obvious reason. The world, seen through Melinda's eyes, is disjointed and tricky. The book is often funny, sometimes dark, exploring the puzzling process of adolescence and the problems of developing sexuality. Melinda is a feisty girl - she gets her voice back and becomes a winner.

It's interesting that some recent prize-winning books began as YA titles - The Incident of the Dog in the Night, and Emma Donaghue's 'Room'.  I'm certainly going to be looking for more things by Laurie Halse Anderson.

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