Friday, October 26, 2018

Reader's Diary #1938- Laurie Halse Anderson (writer), Emily Carroll (artist): Speak

Not having read the original version of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, I cannot measure how faithful the graphic novel adaptation, but it certainly holds up on its own. And, as Anderson states in a note at the beginning of the book, art is a crucial part of protagonist Melinda's story, so a graphical novel approach should be a "natural fit."

As those familiar with the book would tell you, Melinda is a teenage rape survivor, suffering the emotional consequences on her own. She cannot bring herself to speak, to reach out for help, yet most outsiders can tell something's up. Most, unfortunately, are chalking it up to her being weird. She's withdrawn. She bites her lips to the point of scabs. She cuts. Her grades are failing. Worst of all, her rapist still goes to the same school and she nearly collapses at his mere sight.

The back cover of my copy forgoes the usual plot synopsis and blurbs, opting instead to just highlight three powerful words, "I said no." It also pretty much lets you know that this is a book about rape. So, when the first half of the book revolves around Melinda alluding to an event from her past that has left her traumatized, it put me, as a reader in a weird position. Unlike those around Melinda, I know what happened, even if I don't yet know all the details. We're at a discord then from Melinda's peers and it sets up a frustrating feeling. You want them to lay off Melinda, especially considering what she's been through (though some are being mean to her, regardless of what she's been through). Worse, I even felt a little impatient with Melinda to talk already. Which caused no little amount of soul searching. Would I be this impatient with an actual victim? Or was I always cognizant that she was a fictional character in a book and therefore removed from such concepts as "she's just not ready to talk yet." In any case, when Melinda actually does reveal what happened, it's not the black and white resolution as I'd believed it would be. It's still a crucial moment, but new challenges then present themselves, just as Melinda feared, though she is definitely on the right path for her own healing and for protecting others.

As a former teacher, I appreciated the development of those distinct, realistic personalities. (Side note: I did find the art teacher a little creepy, especially when he stopped to offer Melinda a ride.)

Emily Carroll's work here reminded me less of her own previous work with Through the Woods and more of Jillian Tamaki's work on Skim. Simple, fluid lines and mostly realistic looking characters contrast well against Melinda's more creative art projects. Also, I sensed that Carroll really enjoyed the tree motif.

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