Review: Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Review: Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Farrar Straus & Giroux
Book Description:

The critically acclaimed, award-winning, modern classic Speak is now a stunning graphic novel.

“Speak up for yourself-we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless-an outcast-because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. With powerful illustrations by Emily Carroll Speak: The Graphic Novel comes alive for new audiences and fans of the classic novel.

Since its publication in 1999, Speak, the first novel of critically acclaimed and award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson, has been much talked about, challenged, dissected, and shared. Almost twenty years since it was first published and was a National Book Award Finalist, it has been adapted into graphic novel format, with illustrations by Canadian artist Emily Carroll (Through the Woods).

Through Anderson’s adapted text and Carroll’s artwork, readers not only see protagonist Melinda’s present day-to-day life, but also see the depiction of Melinda’s horror- the memories of a rape that was committed by an older student named Andy. Speak is a powerful novel and one that is very much about atmosphere and voice; it is also an uncomfortable, disturbing and essential read about a young woman’s sexual assault and aftermath (self-blame, victim shaming, repercussions (or lack thereof) for perpetrators of sexual assault, and more). This graphic novel adaptation brings all of that dialogue, emotion, conflict and utter terror forth. With Carroll’s striking illustrations, the contrast of Melinda’s quiet yet violent mental torment with that of her reality (her drudgery of school, parents, artificial friends) makes the reading experience even more raw and felt. For those who have read Anderson’s novel, you might experience even more discomfort and intense rage at seeing everything Melinda goes through- especially at the culminating scene that sees her rapist attack again. The graphic novel does absolute justice to its primary source; Anderson’s tone and style, and the significant weight of core subject matter(s) is never lost or lessened. Carroll is an impeccable fit here as illustrator; once you see her illustrations and how she has presented/captured Melinda’s story and the essence of Speak you will likely not be able to imagine a different pictorial representation.

There is not much more I can say in conclusion other than to highly recommend this title. This is a do-not-miss; as significant and moving as its original source, with Carroll’s vivid, sometimes unsettling illustrations providing additional impact to Melinda’s story. As noted above, Anderson’s novel is coming up to its twentieth anniversary next year; since I first read it in the early 2000’s for a university class on children’s literature, I feel as though it has stayed forefront in readers’/YA attention (even more so since I have been a librarian). As other reviews have suggested, Speak: The Graphic Novel does indeed bring Anderson’s classic to a new and/or different audience; there is also much to discover and revisit in this adaptation even if you are already familiar with the novel. Readers acquainted with Anderson’s novels, fans of Emily Carroll’s unique, horror-veined work, or those who are interested in consequential graphic novels might especially appreciate this excellent- important- read.

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I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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