Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK

I’ve gone back & forth on whether to weigh in on this, thinking that there are so many people speaking eloquently that maybe my two cents will just be extra. But then that creates silence, at least on my part, and this is the whole problem.

If you haven’t seen what’s up, check out Laurie’s post here about what’s happening with her wonderful book Speak.

As I said, I don’t really know what more I can say that isn’t already being talked about, but for what it’s worth…

I am, as you could probably guess, vehemently against any kind of censorship or book banning. And I don’t care how much quibbling people do about semantics and meaning, when you tell a school they cannot teach a book, when you tell kids they cannot read & learn about that book in their school, when you forbid a librarian from carrying that book on their shelves–that’s censorship. There is no situation in which I find this kind of thing acceptable.

That said, I have a special feeling about Speak. As for many people whose tweets & posts I’ve been reading, Speak was perhaps my first intro into the brilliance of YA writing. I was reviewing books for the Horn Book Guide, and Speak showed up in one of the first boxes I was sent. I opened it, read, and was blown away. Years later, I had the same reaction when I read Wintergirls, also by Anderson, which I bought on purpose because her writing is so incredible.

Both books shocked me, stunned me, pained me. I do a great deal of reading while I eat, and if you think it wasn’t hard to read Wintergirls during a meal or a snack, without staring at the food on my plate, thinking about my attempts to eat healthily and lose weight, dig far into self-examination of my feelings and motives and behavior, well–think again. Anderson is too great a writer to deal with any of these topics and not make you hurt while you read them. To be honest, Wintergirls is a book I would talk to any parent-friend about if/as I recommended it for their child; I would urge them to read it as well & to try and create an opportunity to discuss it with their child, to–at the very least–stay open and aware to what was going on for their child as he or she read it. Because it’s scary.

It’s also real. And it should be read. And shared.

The same is true for Speak, which–again, if you haven’t read it–is about a girl who stays silent because of and about being raped. Rape that this man from Missouri (I really hate to even give him the validation of typing his name here) is calling porn. Sick? Oh, yeah. What’s sicker? That he’s trying to stop kids and teachers from reading the book together and talking about it.

I saw, after I first posted this blog, that Sarah Okler’s Twenty Boy Summer is also on his list. Here’s Sarah’s take on things. Twenty Boy Summer is another book I read and liked and that, in no way, fits the description this man is trying to apply to it. Ack!  I honestly can’t remember whether Slaughterhouse Five, his other target, was one of the titles I read in my Vonnegut phase, but I think you all can guess, by now, how I feel about trying to ban it–no matter whether it passed across my reading plate or not. (And if you want to roll on the floor laughing, do read my favorite story by Vonnegut–“The Euphio Question” in Welcome to the Monkey House.)

Anyway…when I was in high school, many years ago, our English teacher was told he couldn’t teach us Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. A board member came to speak with us, at another teacher’s request, and told us that this wasn’t censorship. I can still remember the absolute fury I felt at what I was sure was a flat-out lie. In hindsight, perhaps she was just eyeball-deep in denial, but that’s another kind of lie, and I still feel angry at her for forcing her lie onto our reading, our choices. I feel that same anger today.

So many people have made this statement in the past few days, but it’s worth repeating. I will allow you the right to have some say in what your own child reads. I will admit that there have been times in the past when I have skimmed/skipped portions of a book that I was reading to my son–some racist passages in older stories that I was just too unhappy about and uncomfortable to read out loud to him. Was this a good choice? I don’t know. Did I try, whenever I could, to read the passage and talk to him about it? Yes, I did. I wasn’t always successful in pushing myself that far. Do I pay attention to what he reads these days, at fourteen? Yes, I do. Do I try to read many of the books he’s reading–I do, for my own knowledge and entertainment, and to just…stay aware. So, yes, you have the right to do this with your children. You do NOT have the right to do it for my child, or anyone else’s children than your own. And I will Speak Loudly against you for trying.

As I said, people are blogging about this a lot, and you can follow the Twitter thread at #SpeakLoudly. Don’t know if what I’ve written is a contribution or not, but it was clearly something I needed to say.


  1. Becky,

    I think you touch on a great point as to why society tries to censor anything: fear.

    As a parent, I too have skipped over certain parts of stories because I was unsure about how to talk about them, afraid to make a mistake. Your post and the controversy surrounding this book – or any book – reminds me that, as a parent, it’s my responsibility to bring tough issues to the table, whether or not I’m comfortable discussing them.

    And, Anderson’s poem, Listen, is absolutely amazing — reason enough to make sure this book reaches the hand of any young person.


    • beckylevine says:

      I think we all have fear–especially as parents. And yes it’s a battle not to let it control us, but that’s the battle to fight, not the one this guy is waging. 🙂


  2. Mike Jung says:

    Every contribution counts, Becky – thanks for speaking up.


  3. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I felt the same way–“what can I add”–and I ended up posting because I couldn’t think about anything else. I couldn’t keep silent.

    And I think it does help to see how many of us there are who feel this way.


    • beckylevine says:

      Jenn, I saw your post–it’s exactly what you said about using so much energy to cause more pain and close more doors. Makes me so mad. This goes off on a tangent, but somehow I connect people like this with hackers–who have somehow decided they have extra time on their hands & why not use it to mess with other people’s lives. Does this man not have something in his own world that could use his attention.

      Whoops–another vent. It does keep coming. 🙂


  4. It’s great that you weighed in because I hadn’t heard yet! We each have a different (although overlapping) audience.

    And thanks to your post, I listened to her poem and linked it on my fb. (Let’s go viral.) Hopefully I will blog it too, although I can’t find my copy of the book and would love to refresh myself, first.

    Still, if it were pornographic, I’d remember! What I remember is the deep inner life of a teen who loses, then finds her voice.


    • beckylevine says:

      That’s exactly it, Joyce–that’s what I remember, too. And the powerful writing that told the story.


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