Analysis of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak

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Taylor Cummins
R.S. Huttman
Honors English IV
20 December 2011
Finding a Voice
Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, is no stranger to the world of censorship and book banning. Born on October 23, 1961 in northern New York, Anderson was in the literary world from the beginning (“Speak- Anderson”). She received a Bachelor’s degree in Languages and Linguistics in 1984 after transferring to Georgetown University (“Speak- Anderson”). “[Anderson] began her career as an author of three picture books: No time for Mother’s Day (1998), Turkey Pox (1996), and Ndito Runs (1996)” (“Speak- Anderson”). Don Latham summarizes Anderson’s Speak as “the story of teenager Melinda Sordino’s rape, recovery, and eventual coming out as a rape victim” (Latham). Speak is a novel that is geared towards young adults who could possibly relate to Melinda and her story; however, the novel has faced countless criticisms for its crudity and inappropriateness. Despite critics, Anderson’s Speak immediately received astonishing recognition. “[The novel] has been nominated for the 1999 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, [the] Printz Honor, and Top Ten First Novels of 1999, and many more” (“Speak- Anderson”). Regardless of accomplishments, Anderson is continuously questioned about the content of her novel. In response, Anderson says: I’ve dealt with depression my entire life...which makes me the perfect author for teenage readers...So I spent a long time not looking and not speaking about things that really hurt me...everything about my writing of Speak had to do with me watching [my daughter] and not wanting her to go through what I went through (Andersen). Anderson subtly uses anecdotes and life lessons she has learned herself while growing up to translate over to her writing. In Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson addresses disturbing and sensitive issues, giving it reason to be banned; however, the impact it has on the literary world, as well as the world of teenagers, outshines its vulgarity.

Censorship regarding literature has been an age-old controversy. Sheltering children from books for protection is argued as being dangerous. Censoring books and book banning is mainly an issue on the educational level concerning the youth. “Usually the book at issue has to do with sex or morality” (Gottfried 104). When books have topics that are seen as inappropriate, objections arise and lead to boycotting and sheltering the material from the youth. “When [censorship] is exercised by institutions such as schools, colleges, and universities, it falls into a category known as in loco parentis...in loco parentis is acting with parental authority…This means that while a student is on the premises, the institution can and should act as a parent” (Gottfried 102). Giving educational establishments the power to decide what is fit for students could potentially be disastrous. However, the Supreme Court upheld this power in the case of the Board of Education v Pico (1982). In this case, the Court decided that “school boards must be permitted to establish and apply their curriculum in such a way as to transmit community values” (Gottfried 105). This gives institutions the discretion to decide what they want to expose to the youth. Steve McKinzie, of Covenant Syndicate, supports the Court’s decision. He has come to this conclusion: Parents who challenge the inclusion of a given text in a specific literature class and citizens who openly protest a library’s collection development decision are only speaking out about things that they believe in…Let people speak out about what they care about without being branded a censor or labeled a book burner (Gottfried 105). On the contrary, Kerry Paul Altman, a mother of a child where censorship is a constant issue, disagrees. Instead, she believes: …forbidding our children access to literature that explores complex, if at times disturbing social realities is naïve and potentially dangerous, as it does...
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