I had to re-read Laurie Halse Anderson’s groundbreaking debut novel Speak because it was nominated for the ITR list. Honestly, I approached it with some of the committees’ comments in my mind – “Too old,” “really dated”, “female centered” etc. so I admit there was an audible sigh as I pulled the book from my stack on the end table and cracked it open. Oh my.
Speak silenced me. Anderson is a master. I’m not even sure these other people were reading the same book! Or had they, like me, read it years ago and simply assumed it was dated?
Melinda’s voice is absolutely authentic, Anderson’s storytelling is, frankly, exquisite – her plotting careful and truthful, the structure of the book is amazing, and the topic is sadly, still timely and important. I didn’t find this dated at all. A few notable differences with today’s realistic fiction might be 1. no one’s carrying a cell phone so the book’s not artificially filled with characters’ text conversations (snark!) and 2. Melinda’s voice is so grounded, just so darn grounded, the novel has a layered texture that draws the reader in to Melinda’s world where we just sit it out with her over the course of the year. Too many novels I’ve read lately employ an artificial time keeper and for me, it’s a distraction. Books today are noisy and jagged and immature. Ok, so call me a snob. I admit that!
It’s a wonderful moment when you find or re-discover a book that is truly timeless that continues to bless the reader with its lessons.