Speak: The Graphic Novel: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel) Review

cover art for Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily CarrollMelinda remembers when she looked forward to starting high school. It was a new chapter filled with promise. She’d have the  chance to become anyone she wanted.

That was before the end of summer. Before what happened at the party.

Now Melinda is alone. Her parents are too busy hating each other and their lives to pay any attention to why Melinda stopped speaking let alone anything else. At school everyone knows that Melinda is the one who called 911 and brought the cops to the biggest party of the summer.

Art class is Melinda’s one refuge. She doesn’t have to think about the best friends who abandoned her or the new girl who calls her a friend when it’s convenient. She doesn’t have to worry about trying to talk to David Petrakis. She doesn’t even have to think about what happened at the party. All she has to do is draw trees.

Melinda starts the school year as an observer–an outsider. She isn’t okay. But with her art, a reclaimed supply closet, and some time, Melinda might be able to reclaim her voice in Speak: The Graphic Novel (2018) by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll.

This book is the graphic novel adaptation of Anderson’s award winning novel of the same name. Although Speak was originally published in 1999 Melinda’s story remains just as timely and immediate in this new version.

In many ways, Speak: The Graphic Novel feels like the form this story should have always had. Anderson’s story is complemented by Carroll’s eerie black and white illustrations. The format allows the story to shift easily between Melinda’s reality and her imaginings. Carefully constructed page designs also help evoke a palpable sense of Melinda’s silence and her introspection for much of the novel.

Speak has been a must-read since its original publication. This graphic novel adaptation underscores the story’s significance and makes it approachable for a whole new segment of readers.

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green, I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy, Monster: The Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, Adapted by Guy Sims, Illustrated by David Anyabwile; The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell

The Impossible Knife of Memory: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse AndersonHayley and her father Andy have been on the road for the past five years. Sometimes riding in Andy’s rig. Sometimes laying low while Andy tries to hold down a job and Hayley does her version of homeschooling. But then everything stopped and Hayley has been moved back into a life she doesn’t want in a childhood home she refuses to remember.

Being home gives Hayley a chance at a normal life with friends and maybe even a boyfriend. Unfortunately the more the Hayley lets down her guard and allows herself to imagine a future, instead of living day-to-day, the more obvious it is that Andy is still haunted by memories of all the demons and friends he left behind after his last tour over seas. With monstrous memories looming for both of them, Hayley begins to wonder if having a normal life is something she and her father are even capable of in The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014) by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Hayley is an unreliable who lies both to the reader and herself as pieces of her past unfold in memories that cut like knives and unwanted visitors from her past. Slowly, with flashback-like memories from both Hayley and her father, the story of how they returned home unfolds. At the same time, Anderson manages to ground this book in the present with a fledgling romance and a grocery list of other problems that, in the hands of a less skilled writer, would feel trite as the perfect facades of Hayley’s friends also fall apart.

The Impossible Knife of Memory is an interesting book. But it’s also an incredibly difficult read at times. My mother was very sick last year and it took a toll on both of us–so much so that, as I read this book, I saw much more of myself in Hayley than I would have liked. That said, Anderson’s writing is excellent and returns here to the quality found in Speak with the same surprises and another fresh, surprising narrator. Although Andy is deeply troubled it was also nice to see a parental figure in a book with genuine affection for his daughter and interest in her well-being–even if it is mostly mired in the hardships that come with dealing with his own psychological traumas.

On the outset The Impossible Knife of Memory sounds like an issue book with its focus on Hayley’s father’s PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Anderson, however, brings her usual skill to this topic offering a well-rounded story that encompasses more than this one timely topic. I probably won’t re-read this book because of the personal slant that made it hard to read. I am actually painfully certain I don’t even want a copy in the house. That said, The Impossible Knife of Memory is an important book that is never heavy-handed or obnoxious. Instead Anderson offers an honest, unflinching portrayal of one family’s difficulties with PTSD as well as the promise of not just a way through but also even a chance at a happy ending.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Catalyst: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Catalyst by Laurie Halse AndersonCatalyst (2003) by Laurie Halse Anderson is a sequel/companion to Speak. It’s set one year after the events of Speak. This novel is narrated by Kate Malone: straight-A senior, science and math whiz, and daughter of the local reverend. Kate’s also a great runner, which is good because Kate’s been running from a lot of things:

Kate has been the family caretaker since her mother died. She hasn’t been sleeping as she waits to hear from her dream college (she runs instead). And now Teri Litch, Kate’s nemesis, and Terry’s little brother are living with the Malones. Kate tries to ignore all of these problems by running and keeping her head in the sand. Besides, things couldn’t get any worse. Until they do.

You’ll have to read the book to figure out what happens next because I don’t do spoiler reviews.

So now we can talk about the book in technical terms: The book is broken up into elements (solid, liquid, gas) and features quotes from an AP Chem prep book. Most of them are straightforward enough to be understandable and relate to the story. Kate also makes use of scientific elements for her narration without being overly scientific (AKA confusing/boring).

I greatly admire Laurie Halse Anderson. She’s a great writer and she never comes off as smug or pompous in her interviews at the back of her books. Even better, Anderson is a fresh voice.

That said, the voice here was not as fresh as it was in Speak. In other words, Kate’s narration sounds a lot like Melinda even though they are completely different characters. That bothered me. I like that Anderson’s prose is so snappy and often sarcastic, but it was weird having two disparate characters narrate in almost the same voice. Given the connection between these two books, I suppose comparisons are inevitable so I’ll finish the thought: Melinda is a more likable narrator than Kate. That makes a difference.

Ironically, the increased dialogue in this book (Melinda does not talk throughout most of hers) doesn’t make the characters more developed. The minor characters, particularly Sara and Travis, remain flat: developed enough to be quirky but not present enough to be memorable. This might be because Kate’s social circle is larger, giving Anderson more characters to fit into the narrative.

The other thing to bear in mind about Catalyst is that it is not the same kind of book as Speak. Kate’s path throughout the narrative, and her way through her problems, is very different than Melinda’s. (If you haven’t guessed yet, Kate’s path involves a lot of running.) This book also has a different appeal. Speak seemed more universal, the scope for Catalyst is more narrow. Anderson does a great job of capturing the anxiety and drama that surrounds the college application/acceptance process. She also creates a compelling study of the silent, overachiever that seems to be at every high school. More importantly, Anderson shows that those achievements don’t always come without a cost.

Overall, Catalyst is a good book. I enjoyed it and I would recommend it. But Speak was a great book that was, overall, more powerful than its sequel.

Possible Pairings: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, Tumbling by Caela Carter, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, Rx by Tracy Lynn, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Speak: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Speak by Laurie Halse AndersonIf there is a canon for contemporary teen literature, Speak (1999) by Laurie Halse Anderson is in it. (Find it on Bookshop.) A Printz Award honor book and a National Book Award finalist in 1999, this book is, quite frankly, awesome.

The story follows Melinda Sordino during her first year in high school. Starting high school is hard enough, but for Melinda it’s even worse. Over the summer, Melinda became a social outcast and now watches the goings at school from the fringe. She also doesn’t talk to anyone if she can avoid it.

The reasons for Melinda’s shunning by the rest of the school and her reticence are revealed as the novel progresses and Melinda tries to define herself in light of that summer. Along the way, Melinda finds the outlet she needs in an unlikely place: her high school art room.

Anderson’s writing voice is utterly unique, making this novel a real experience to read. It is one of the few novels out there that is completely conversational while maintaining an absolutely realistic voice. Melinda’s narration is snappy and caustic. Being written in the present tense adds to the immediacy of the novel.

In addition to dealing with Melinda’s trauma and her healing process, this book addresses a lot of common issues for teens. Anderson aptly portrays what it feels like to be the outcast with no one to  sit with on the first day of school. And how hard it is to realize that sometimes having no friend is better than having a bad one.

Strangely, for a novel where the narrator doesn’t speak to other characters, one of the best features of this novel is Anderson’s dialogue.  Even though Melinda rarely has anything to say to other characters, the dialogue flows, Anderson making used of ellipsis and asides in the narration to fill in Melinda’s half of the “conversations.”

Even though Anderson is writing about a narrow experience, this is a book that everyone should read. Even if you don’t usually read “chick lit,” check out Speak for the excellent writing. I have never seen a character that sounds as real as Melinda, or a writing style as fresh as Laurie Halse Anderson’s.

A couple years ago, this book was made into a movie for the Lifetime network. If you plan on reading the novel, do so before you see the movie. The events of the story are much more powerful if you read it without knowing what’s coming up next.

Also, after you finish Speak, be sure to check out Catalyst–a novel set a few years after Speak in the same community/high school.

Possible Pairings: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell