Sunday, December 21, 2014

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I remember being in one of my college classes discussing new YA books that kids in high schools were reading. Speak came up. I had not read it and so could not contribute to the conversation. However, I do remember it being controversial. Class members took different stands on it and I remained fairly opinionless about the exact book. All I knew was that it involved rape. 

Just recently some friends of mine didn't want their 8th graders to read this book in their class. They felt it was too graphic and felt their children were too young to read it. Without reading the book beforehand, I supported their desire to have another book read. I suggested asking for an alternate book or asking that certain pages be passed over. As a high school English teacher myself, these were both very realistic and easy accommodations for a teacher to make. Is the book too graphic? I couldn't say. But what I did know was that it had been a point of discussions 10 years ago in my college class, and I also knew that these parents were concerned. Whether I agree that the book shouldn't be read or not, I 100% believe that parents should have a say in their children's education and that if they are uncomfortable with something, that a teacher should be able to figure out a way to accommodate them. (This topic of parent rights in a classroom could go on, but for now, I'll leave it there.)

So yes, I supported my friends and gave suggestions of how I felt they could appropriately handle the situation.

And I bought the book and read it.

And I loved it.

1) Subject Matter Speak addresses a very real issue that is a part of our children's lives. Rape isn't only happening to older kids or those running, listening to head phones, on a dark night along an ally. Rape is happening all. the. time. And I believe it's happening at younger ages as well. So, I actually loved how the author approached the topic. I completely related with the character and felt that her thoughts had been mine at one point in my life. It's a topic that needs to be handled with care, and I think the author writes about it in a way that brings reality to the picture...fear, sadness, guilt...these emotions were clear.

2) Writing  Anderson's writing is so good. So good. She's such a talented author. I've only read 2 of her books so far, but I have loved her writing in both. She has a way of really grabbing her reader and I always thoroughly enjoying reading her books...but more than that...I try to find time in my day just to read her writing. She's a very talented author.

3) Age Appropriate  hmm  The topic matter is age appropriate, but should it be taught in an 8th grade class? I taught high school. I could see using this book with my 11th graders. But I don't know if I would with an 8th grade class. It wasn't as graphic as I thought at all. It was tense. For sure. Emotion was strong and I felt afraid for her, but there wasn't anything explicit that I remember reading. I can't remember any details that made me uncomfortable. But I'm 34. I think for an 8th grader to read the book...perhaps it is too intense. Should we not teach the topic? I think if a teacher wants to discuss these social issues, it can be done in so many other ways. But if I had more than 3 parents who were concerned about a book, I would re-examine my strategy, choose other literature, and go from there. There's on shortage of literature in our world. A teacher can find other short stories, essays, books, articles, and songs to discuss any given theme. 

8th grade? This may be too young. Junior or senior in high school? It's probably worth a read if you feel your kids can handle the issue. Or, maybe especially if you think they can't handle the issue...perhaps it's a good book to introduce to them and discuss so they can develop their own opinions and action plans for if something like this were to happen to them or someone they know.

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