Speak Loudly

This week, Wesley Scroggins,an associate professor of management at Missouri State University (and fundamentalist Christian), wrote an opinion piece in the News-Leader of Springfield, MO, in which he characterized Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak as filthy and immoral, calling it “soft pornography” because of two rape scenes. He is demanding that Speak, along with a few other books, immediately be pulled from the district.  This leaves me infuriated.

Melinda Sordino is one of my all-time favorite YA characters.  I can still remember the first time I got a copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. My aunt was a seventh grade language arts teacher at the time and she used to hand books to me on a weekly basis. One of those books was Speak. I was immediately drawn to the cover and remember that I read it, from cover to cover, that night. I was only in junior high, but I knew this was an extremely powerful book.

Six years later, as a freshman in college, I volunteered with my campus’s Sexual Assault Services. I still remembered Melinda, even though I hadn’t read the book in years. For the next two years I saw real-life Melindas. I also saw the other characters in her life- her classmates. I was a part of SCREAM (Students Challenging Reality and Educating Against Myths ), a group which uses improv and theater to address interpersonal violence. This involves issues such as harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, emotional, physical, and verbal abuse, and same-sex violence. Most of the skits I was involved with centered around dating violence and sexual assault. I will never forget performing for various high schools around the state, watching their faces during the performance and listening to the questions those students asked at the end of the performance. Not every high schooler has access to something like SCREAM Theater. But EVERY adolescent should have access to Speak.

Why?  Take a look at these statistics, courtesy of RAINN.

  • Every two minutes someone in the United States is a victim of sexual assault.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
  • 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.
  • 29% are age 12-17.
  • 44% are under age 18.
  • 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.
  • 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.

Victims of sexual assault are:

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

How DARE Mr. Scroggins characterize Speak, an important and vital book for YA readers, as filth?  Apparently he is unaware that young readers can actually be the victims of horrible things like sexual assault.  In fact, as Jordan Sonnenblick once said, there are children everywhere experiencing things everyday that we won’t let them read about.  Mr. Scroggins, Speak might not be right for you or your child.  But it could be life-saving for a teen out there.  You have every right in the world to keep your own children from reading the book, but stay the hell away from everyone else’s children.

There has been an outpouring of rage on Twitter and book blogs.Authors are stepping forward in defense of Speak, as are readers (both teen and adult).  Check out the #SpeakLoudly hashtag on Twitter for hundreds of responses.  At 8pm there will be a live tweet of #SpeakLoudly.  Do your part and Speak Loudly!  Speak up and speak loudly.


5 Responses

  1. Books like Speak are unspeakably valuable safety nets for many, many teens. Life savers in text. I weep for the children who are denied such saviors. Who are denied the means to find their voice and thus denied courage and a path to healing wholeness.

    Thank you for your post.

  2. In 1999 I was a judge for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Golden Kite Award for fiction. Along with two other authors it was my job to read and evaluate several hundred works of fiction published for young people in that year. Some of the stories I read weren’t very good–preachy, flat, populated with cardboard characters. Others were excellent. The one that stood out, though, was a book called SPEAK by an author I’d never heard of–Laurie Halse Anderson. The setting and details were authentic, the protagonist and the other characters were three-dimensional, the conflict she faced was all too real, the choices she made were courageous, and the resolution was completely satisfying. It’s been eleven years now, but when people ask me about my favorite YA writing, I always mention SPEAK. Mr. Scroggins’ comments on the book remind me of some criticism I received for one of my books that happened to be published that same year. Because a character in the story smoked, the so-called critic felt I was condoning smoking and didn’t want the book in her school. That (or condemning a story where rape occurs because that’s condoning rape) is as silly and shallow as saying a story where a kid gets cancer condones cancer or a story about an ostrich putting its head in the sand condones ostriches putting their heads in the sand. Oh yeah–the other judges independently arrived at the same conclusion I did. SPEAK won the Golden Kite.

  3. Hello,

    I have tried twice now, and your link to your blog page on RAINN is broken. I come up with a “page not found.” Thank you for the statistics, they break my heart.

  4. Speak is also way too realistic in its depiction the horrifically cold and snowy winters of Central New York (where I spent my youth). I had flashbacks/nightmares of waiting at the bus stop on those single digit degree days after reading Speak. This book should probably come with a warning label for the cold/snow averse.

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