Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, art by Emily Carroll
Published by Hodder, 2018
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Anderson’s novel, Speak, follows a teenage girl in the wake of sexual assault as she attempts to handle depression, navigate social isolation, and find the confidence to speak her truth. First published back in 1999, it is highly revered by many and had been on my radar for years. When I heard that Anderson was working with artist Emily Carroll (whose work I’m a big fan of) to adapt the story into a graphic novel, I knew it was the edition I wanted to get hold of.
Part of my love for Carroll’s art style lies in her vibrant use of colour, so the fact this is presented in greyscale initially worried me. It needn’t have; her characteristically playful use of imagery, form and layout means the artwork still has real impact. It serves as an excellent accompaniment to the story itself, which handles heavy subject matter in a way that feels truthful and heartfelt, without ever condescending the target YA audience.
Having not read the book in its original form, I can’t directly compare the two, but I feel confident in saying the graphic novel format works brilliantly to convey Melinda’s story. Art itself plays a key role throughout her arc, as she learns to process trauma and express herself. These moments can be woven into the narrative seamlessly and more boldly thanks to Carroll’s illustration.
The book is clear in its messages – that no means no, that the victim is never to blame, and that the mental scars of trauma are just as painful to deal with as the physical ones – and I admire that Anderson takes time to explore them with due sensitivity and realism; never rushing or understating her points. By contrast, I will say I found the denouement a little abrupt, but this didn’t diminish the story’s overall power. I also really appreciate that Anderson never presents Melinda as “perfect”; she can be moody, mean-spirited, and a little judgemental of others – but this works so well to make her feel like an authentic teenage protagonist and to press home the point that no one – however complex and flawed they may be – ever deserves to endure what Melinda goes through.