Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll REVIEW

The original Speak novel was published in 1999. At the time, it was powerful specifically because so few novels like it had existed; one that dealt with the aftermath of a rape.

I read Speak many years ago, when I was a teenager. The book affected me deeply. It was the first time that I had read a book that dealt with this topic in such a way. In media, women’s trauma is often portrayed through a male gaze. Or rather, to further development of male characters. It is rarely about women’s trauma itself.

To me, as a teen, it was almost revolutionary to read a book that centered on Melinda’s trauma. That not only centered on her trauma, but also her journey to try and move past it – which was often traumatic on its own.

Even though it has been nineteen years since the original Speak novel was released, the book’s topic is unfortunately still timely and important. Perhaps more than ever as we deal with the fallout of the #metoo movement.

Speak: The Graphic Novel takes everything that made the original novel revolutionary and… makes it better, if that’s even possible. Anderson’s prose alongside Carroll’s beautifully haunting art is the perfect medium to retell Melinda’s story. There are pages of this graphic novel that are almost painful to read, painful to look at. Carroll and Anderson have managed to capture Melinda’s trauma in an honest and visceral way.

Anderson and Carroll’s joint storytelling venture is uniquely powerful. Though I wouldn’t say that the original Speak novel was missing anything per se, this graphic novel still manages to make brilliant additions to that story. One of these brilliant additions that just works is Melinda’s attempts at drawing trees. In Speak, all of the students are given an object by their art teacher that they must study and draw over and over throughout the year. Melinda’s object was a tree. As the story progressed, the tree became a way for Melinda to speak when she, herself, couldn’t. Instead of using her voice, Melinda often expressed herself and her pain through the medium of art. In this graphic novel version, this added layer becomes even more powerful.

This is especially towards the end when the tree, which has been Melinda’s way to express pain, also becomes her way of expressing her growth and healing. At one point, Melinda wonders whether a tree bark is like braille, holding in all of our memories. While an image of a tree reaching out to the heavens, with Melinda’s words – I survived – inscribed in it – simultaneously suggests that whether this is true or not, these inscribed memories are not the be all end all.

I cannot sing enough praises of Emily Carroll’s art here. Her work has always been masterful and evocative. If you haven’t read Carroll’s first book, Through The Woods, I highly recommend picking it up. Though her work in Through The Woods is horror, her style perfectly complements Anderson’s story here. There are pages after pages that leap out at you – both for the gorgeous artwork and how well it captures the emotion of the book.

Melinda’s journey in the story is about her inability to express herself. Her inability to speak up – especially when it concerns herself. Through the graphic novel, her struggles seem to come across even more fiercely. Some of my favourite parts of the graphic novel are pages where Melinda, unable to express herself, stands in front of reflective surfaces. But instead of reflecting back Melinda, these reflective surfaces have her own words pasted on them, staring back at the reader.

If you were a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson’s original novel, I highly recommend that you pick up Speak: The Graphic novel. It will not disappoint you. If you’re a fan of powerful stories about difficult subjects, and beautiful art, then I also recommend that you pick it up.

I also can’t wait to see what Anderson and Carroll decide to do next in terms of artistic endeavours. Though they might go their separate ways, I’m secretly hoping that they team up again to create another graphic novelization. Perhaps Wintergirls?

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A brilliant and thought-provoking novel that becomes even more powerful in its new graphic novel form. Review copy provided