Day One: Speak: First Marking Period

April 2, 2008 at 3:25 am | Posted in Speak | 7 Comments

speak.jpgHow long did it take for Laurie Halse Anderson to hook you? to draw you into the story?

“It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.”

From the very beginning, our narrator is someone that is easy to relate to. Nerves on the first day of school. That sense of dread leading up to a stomachache. Been there. Done that. I think we all have.

“The school bus wheezes to my corner. The door opens and I step up. I am the first pickup of the day. The driver pulls away from the curb while I stand in the aisle. Where to sit? I’ve never been a backseat wastecase. If I sit in the middle, a stranger could sit next to me. If I sit in the front, it will make me look like a little kid, but I figure it’s the best chance I have to make eye contact with one of my friends, if any of them have decided to talk to me yet.”

Bus rides. So not fun. Now we’re beginning to clue into the fact that our narrator may not be the most popular kid around. Though we still don’t know much for sure.

“The bus picks up students in groups of four or five. As the walk down the aisle, people who were my middle-school lab partners or gym buddies glare at me. I close my eyes. This is what I’ve been dreading. As we leave the last stop, I am the only person sitting alone.”

Glare. That’s a pretty strong word. Ignoring is one thing. Sitting alone on the bus because you’re friendless and ignored is one thing. Not pleasant, but a full-out glare we’re talking Outcast.

Let’s jump ahead to the auditorium. This little unfriendly orientation.

“I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don’t have anyone to sit with. I am Outcast.”

Here we see a girl who used to have friends, but is now friendless. She wasn’t always Outcast. She used to be somebody. The pain, the anger, the confusion. It’s all right there in the text. Some might say a bit over-the-top dramatic. But our narrator is fond of biting her lip until it bleeds. She does this over and over and over and over again throughout the text. And maybe it’s realistic. Maybe it’s not. Pain is real. Her pain is real. But I haven’t witnessed the extremity of biting-until-bleeds pain and emotion in real life.


1. We are here to help you.

2. You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.

3. The dress-code will be enforced.

4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.

5. Our football team will win the championship this year.

6. We expect more of you here.

7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.

8. Your schedule was created with your needs in mind.

9. Your locker combination is private.

10. These will be the years you look back on fondly.

Sound true-to-you??? I know they sound true-to-me. They anger me because they’re so true, so authentic. I wonder sometimes if high schools are all the same no matter where you live or how old you are.

So what are you thinking of our narrator so far? She seems very observant, very honest. Her descriptions of high school life–the teachers, the students, the classes. What do you think? Do you have a favorite?

I liked the insight on history class. “We are studying American history for the ninth time in nine years. Another review of map skills, one week of Native Americans, Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day, the Pilgrims in time for Thanksgiving. Every year they say we’re going to get right up to the present, but we always get stuck in the Industrial Revolution. We got to World War I in seventh grade–who knew there had been a war with the whole world? We need more holidays to keep the social studies teachers on track.”

That is proof that I’m not the only student who has wondered why history never progressed much into the twentieth century in school. It’s always the same old same old stories over and over again. Not that I didn’t love history in school. It was one class that I could conquer with complete confidence–almost. Mostly 96’s or higher and never any studying. Don’t hate me though 🙂 But I’m getting subtracted.

Further encounters with “Mr. Neck.” He’s the villain, or one of the villains. I’d say the only villain we’ve met so far. He just oozes slime. “I knew you were trouble the first time I saw you. I’ve taught here for twenty-four years and I can tell what’s going on in a kid’s head just by looking in their eyes. No more warnings. You just earned a demerit for wandering the halls without a pass.” Don’t you want to punch him? yell at him? I sure do! This is prime example of who shouldn’t be working with kids and teens. People who think they know it all.

Art class. Some might think this is a bit predictable. At least nowadays. Troubled teen finding refuge in art class. Definitely a literary stereotype. But at the time I first read this one–about seven or eight years ago–I didn’t know that. I think it’s realistic that some kids find refuge there. But not all kids. Certainly I wasn’t one of them. Art class being one of the places I felt most unsafe. But I’ve got to say that the creative arts–art (drawing, sculpting, painting), drama, music, and writing–are crucial to education. I wish there was more emphasis on creative expressions, creative appreciation and less emphasis on sports.

Our narrator, Melinda, chose “tree” from the globe. This might help explain the cover for those wondering what was going on there.

So life goes on. School goes on.

“Homework is not an option. My bed is sending out serious nap rays. I can’t help myself. The fluffy pillows and warm comforter are more powerful than I am. I have no choice but to snuggle under the covers.”

You can’t help but relate to her. The nap rays? Who hasn’t had that happened when faced with the alternative–home work. Going off on a slight tangent, “Wuthering Heights” was the code word for nap-taking around here at chez Laney. Mom caught on pretty fast that “Reading Wuthering Heights” actually meant taking a nap for several hours. Unlike our narrator, my mom was pretty on-top-of-it when it came to “reminding” me that I had homework to do. I was a BIG BIG BIG procrastinator. To my credit, assignments did always get done on time most of the time (98% of the time at least; and it was really the weather man’s fault when they didn’t. If he promised snow and then didn’t deliver was it really my fault???).

“Gym should be illegal. It is humiliating.”

Her friend Heather. Has anyone else known a friend or “friend” like that? “She’s like a dog that keeps jumping into your lap. She always walks with me down the halls chattering a million miles a minute.”

To Heather’s credit, Melinda isn’t giving anything back. She’s unresponsive and completely shut down. Heather just accepts her as is for the time being at least and tries her best to be both sides of the conversation.

The pep rally. I believe–though I’m not completely sure–that this is the first time we learn that Melinda is Melinda. We also hear for the first time just what she did that pissed everyone off. She called the cops at a party she was attending.

“I have worked so hard to forget every second of that stupid party, and here I am in the middle of a hostile crowd that hates me for what I had to do. I can’t tell them what really happened. I can’t even look at that part myself.”

The cheerleaders.

So true. I’ve often wondered that. The whole two-realities thing. At my school, it wasn’t just the cheerleaders. It was the whole cool-kid bunch. The athletes. The cheerleaders. The drill team. If you weren’t among those three, then you were treated like dirt. By whom? Everybody. The administration, the teachers, the other students. Everybody means everybody. (I could say treated like something-else, but I’m trying to keep it relatively clean.)

The parents finally make an appearance. It’s about time they looked at their daughter. Too bad they’re not actually observing her and listening to her.

Life keeps going and going. And October is now through. Halloween has passed. And Melinda’s nightmare is just beginning to come to the surface.

“I see IT in the hallway. IT goes to Merryweather. IT is walking with Aubrey Cheerleader. IT is my nightmare and I can’t wake up. IT sees me. IT smiles and winks.”

Well. The first marking period is over. What do you think of Speak so far? What do you think of Melinda? Any observations about high school life and drama?

Or next ‘meeting’ is Monday, April 7th. And the reading that is due is the second marking period.



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  1. […] April 2nd; First Marking Period; Roughly 3-46 Monday, April 7th; Second Marking Period; Roughly 49-92 […]

  2. I read this a few years ago, so my comments will be pretty general. But I remember that excerpt about history. My history classes were all exactly like that. Only we never made it past the Civil War. But I think it’s more comprehensive these days. Now 9th graders take US history, 10th take European, 11th take World, and 12th have choices — my son is taking a humanities class, which seems mostly like a basic philosophy/theology course.

  3. I am new to your group so I don’t know how you do this exactly. I posted my comments on my blog.

    As I stated in my post I was not taken with the voice of the character, it did not pull me in. But you seemed to have a more positive reaction to that than I did.

    I love that you posted the first ten lies, I was going to but decided not to. Oh I forgot to write about the Anti-Cheerleader clan and that was one of my favorite parts.

    I really felt this section of the book as a “setup” of things to come and I am eager to read more.

    It is interesting I didn’t go to a high school like this. I went to a private high school so when I read about public high school my mind flashes back to middle school, which is my best frame of reference. This book did bring up a ton of memories for me, being lost in the halls, not having a hall pass, being reprimanded for stupid things, wanting to know that mystery that was within the faculty lounge.

  4. The narrator’s voice definitely did take me in. Even on her worst days she’s got a really great sarcastic humor to her that maybe reminds me a little bit of myself. I loved the ten lies – particularly the “you’ll have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings” (maybe if you run and cause bodily harm to several people trying to forcefully move them out of your way) and the “these will be the years you’ll look back on fondly” (AKA ‘these are the best years of your life’ – thank God they weren’t or that would have been quite a disappointment).

    I definitely know the “nap rays” but they got me more in college than in high school – I actually wrote a paper about my bed and its powerful hold on me (no, seriously – and I know that sounds insane, but my professor actually *loved* it).

    All in all, I’d have to say that Speak is definitely bringing back the whole high school experience pretty accurately, sadly to say. The teacher who is only teaching so he can coach a sport, the history class that doesn’t get through much history, the popular people and everyone else, and the surprising cruelty and lack of any desire to understand anybody but themselves that many teenagers seem to have (and seem to be acquiring at a younger and younger age). And gym *should* be illegal – I still have nightmares about weeks upon weeks of field hockey, running laps on mornings when there didn’t seem to be enough oxygen in the air to breathe, and the whole awkward locker room thing. So glad those days are over!

  5. Megan, I won’t say that the first paragraph hooked me. I could relate to it and all. But that alone wouldn’t have given it ‘best book beginning’ ever status. I think what hooked me and made me say that this was a character I wanted to read more about was her Ten Lies.

    I agree that this first section was just setting things up for the big reveal that is coming. I hope that you enjoy. But feel free to comment honestly regardless. You won’t hurt my feelings if you hate the book.

    The second Megan, I agree. I could see ‘me’ in the pages of Speak. Her experiences in and out of the classroom it was like flashback time. (Not that my experiences compared with the big reveal of Melinda’s. But still.) College was nap-ray time as well. I remember a forward going around when I was a freshman that compared college to kindergarten. I can’t remember all the things listed, but the bit about napping was certainly true!

    I think this book should be required reading for anyone who works with teens. Sometimes I wonder just how teachers and coaches (and administrators) can be so dense and uncomprehending of how high school really is for most people. How they contribute to the misery and angst.

    It was reading Speak all those years ago (1999? 2000?) that opened up the world of YA lit to me and led me down a new career path.

  6. Ooops, I thought Second Marking Period was going to be today :p So I’m caught up til there. I’m really enjoying Speak so far and can imagine where it’s going with “IT”…her past. I love Anderson’s sense of humor while telling the story. Brings you right back to the cliches of high school, while at the same time allows us to examine our main character in depth and see the struggles that she goes through. This is certainly an important book I can see and should be required reading in high school. It might give bullies a little bit more empathy towards those people that they either just ignore or go out of their way to be cruel to. Great read so far!

  7. I’m glad you’re enjoying it so far, Chris. I’m really curious what your thoughts will be since your background is what it is, right? I seem to remember that it was/is counseling 🙂 That’s an awkwardly worded sentence for you!

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