By Dustin Cabeal
Never have I felt more underqualified to review a story than with Speak: The Graphic Novel. A title that leads me to believe that there’s a novel version of this story as well. I don’t know because I don’t research anything before reading it. That probably comes off as a strange thing for a reviewer to do, but its actually the best thing in the world because it’s the only way to be surprised by a story. I never read the synopsis for Speak, and I’m glad I didn’t. In fact, I would even tell you wholeheartedly not to finish this review and instead go get a copy for yourself and go in blind. It makes for a powerful reading experience.
For those of you that won’t or can’t do that. I understand. Its why I’m still going to write this review because some people really want to wrap their head around a book/story before trying it and others are here after already reading it and seeking another opinion to relate or debate against. I hope you won’t find any debate here because Speak is easily one of the best books of 2018. It is one of the most important works I’ve read since starting Comic Bastards.
What is incredibly brilliant about the story by Laurie Halse Anderson is how it builds itself page after page. It has a diary feel to it which is pitched at the beginning of the story, but unlike other stories that have done diaries, it never once feels like reading a hollow, pointless entry. Melinda, the main character has the worst first day of high school, and at first, it’s unclear as to why. From the perspective of the other students, it’s because she called the cops on a party during the summer. We as the reader have already spent some time with Melinda though, and it’s instantly apparent that there was something else going on at that party. Something that no one has taken the time to hear.
I don’t know the world for it; it’s not irony though I’m sure others would misuse that word to describe it, as the story goes on Melinda speaks less and less. To the point that it hurts to talk because it’s been so long since she’s spoken. Something happened to Melinda at the party during the summer. It’s not hard to figure out after a bit, but it is incredibly painful to read this story and see how damn isolated and helpless Melinda is feeling. I was sad, angry, depressed and frustrated throughout this story and that didn’t particularly match up with what Melinda was feeling, it’s just how strong the emotions the story is invoking from the reader.
It’s masterful how the story builds and builds though. Eventually, Melinda finds her voice, and you’d think, “Thank god, this is can all be made better, healing can begin!” But it doesn’t work out like that. The journey isn’t over, there’s no snap of the fingers, and the world is all better, Melinda has trauma to deal with, and while finding her voice she experiences an isolation and living hell that no one should have to go through, but so many people, especially women, go through all the time.
The artwork from Emily Carroll is so spot on and perfect that it’s scary at times. The art doesn’t pull all the emotions out on its own but instead brings them to life to be felt more completely. Melinda looks miserable, and it’s very relatable. It’s identifiable. No one is going to look at her and be confused by her emotions and the people in the story respond to her accordingly. The terrifying moments in which we see a visual of what Melinda is thinking or from her point of view are powerful. They help build the story piece by piece and often the art is so in touch with the writing that it feels like one person is doing everything. Emily Carroll is extremely talented and equally powerful with her artwork on Speak.
I could only relate to a few aspects of this story which is why I said I felt underqualified to review Speak, but a masterpiece like this doesn’t ask you to be qualified. It asks for your attention and understanding. Two things I could definitely give it. Speak is masterful in its story making it an important work. I’m sure that a lot of reviews and readers will say its powerful because of #MeToo, but it feels so much more powerful than that. This story would be important if Me Too didn’t happen but shines brighter because of it perhaps. Again, I’m underqualified, but it will be a story that I give my son to read one day. It is something I would just as quickly give a guy friend to read as I would a girl friend. It’s a story that I hope that you reading this review will explore yourself and be moved by. That you’ll learn from it and help change the world because of it. It’s that damn powerful that I believe that Speak can change the world. If you don’t believe me, then you better read it for yourself.
Speak: The Graphic Novel
Laurie Halse Anderson
FSG Books for Young Readers