04 March 2008

13. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

First, a plot overview: Over the summer between 8th and 9th grade Melinda and her friend Rachel get invited to a party hosted by seniors(!). She chugs two beers and shortly thereafter finds herself outside, receiving the attentions of a very hot senior boy named Andy. Soon the flirting stops and he gets rough, raping her. She goes back inside and calls the cops. Too scared and unsure of what to do, she bails as soon as the fuzz rolls up. But when she gets to school everyone hates her for busting up the party. She carries the secret of the rape, and tries to deal with the emotional consequence all by herself for most of the school year.

I think this book owes a lot to Blume's Forever. Melinda's voice had its own quirky style, and the rape was handled well by Anderson - not too graphic, and just scary enough to make it real.

Anderson also does a great job slowly revealing the layers of the character and Melinda's story. She brings us slowly to a simmer and then to a boil and we hardly notice the heat or the pace.

What I most admired was the style of the writing (this goes to voice, too). For example, page 70, "I'm just like them - an ordinary drone dressed in secrets and lies." And again, on page 133, "Underground, pale seeds roll over in their sleep. Starting to get restless. Starting to dream green." And 169-70, when Melinda is demonstrating tennis for her gym class and she is about to fire the ball right at Nicole, "Her pride is at stake, her womynhood." I found that word, slipped in there nice and quiet, tells us a lot about Melinda.

And what was with the token reference to cutting?

My special deluxe "Platinum Edition" has an interview with Anderson where she explains the book is less about rape than it is about depression. I think that that is an important issue to discuss and to relate to the rape - Melinda's friend asks if she got pregnant or got a disease. She didn't, but she did have her personality crushed, and without art class, or Mr. "Free"man, who knows how she would have ended up.

As far as using the book in class...I definitely would like to try, especially with an 8th grade class. I feel like it would be a good time for kids to read this, maybe even at the end of 7th grade, depending on the, uh, maturity level of the student body. And I especially think it's one of a number of important books for young boys to read.

03 March 2008

on the hand-copying of Animal Farm

I haven't read Animal Farm since I taught it two years ago, but the other day I found myself thinking about the book, and recalling two teachers from Belarus who visited my old school. They traveled with half a dozen of their students to NYC as part of an exchange program with our school and stayed for about a week and a half.

While they were here I was teaching Orwell's Animal Farm. The guy teacher, whose names escapes me unfortunately, sat and listened for the entire day, as I covered the same material three times. As a courtesy I gave him a copy of the book so he could follow along with the passages we were reading. He came back for some, or all, of every day we discussed the book. He never joined the conversation but spent the entire time copying the text into his notebook.

When I found out what he was doing I urged him to take the book with him, to take copies enough for his students, even. But he said that he'd never get it out of the airport and that he would probably get in trouble for trying, but having it buried in his notebook meant that he had the book. He couldn't believe such a book existed and I quietly marveled to myself that he didn't already know about it. And then marveled at what I take for granted.

I think of him often, head down in concentration, one hand writing away and the other marking his place. And I wonder where his notebook is, who has read it, and how it's simmering somewhere over there. Waiting.