Melinda, the protagonist in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, is certainly dealing with real alienation among her peers and angst over how to proceed with her high school life. What makes this character different is that she is not imagining alienation: there is real alienation happening. It is interesting to look at what this traumatic event, rape, coupled with peer avoidance and outright alienation can really do to a young woman through reading this book. She describes being alienated, “I close my eyes, this is what I’ve been dreading. As we leave the last stop, I am the only person sitting alone” (p. 3). She is very aware of her surroundings, and the angst is seen because she has been dreading that she would be isolated on the bus all summer.
Unfortunately, Melinda has been angst ridden since the party happened before the author allows us into her perspective. Not only does Melinda experience alienation from her peers, but also she feels so has changed so rapidly that she is foreign to herself. “My room belongs to an alien. It is a postcard of who I was in the fifth grade. It is a demented phase when I thought that roses should cover everything and pink was a great color” (p. 15). I remember thinking to myself at the start of high school that it was crucial to change my room from cloud paintings on the wall to a deep merlot color with blue accents; my room no longer represented who I was. My process was slow and gradual over a few years. It was quite different for Melinda; she quickly transformed to a different person when she was raped.
Additionally, she feels alienated from her parents after the rape. She states, “How can I talk to them about that night? How can I start?” (p.72) I feel that having something to say and not knowing how would be completely heart breaking for anyone, especially a young girl in need of support of her family. There does seem to be a ray of sunshine in all of this. Yes, she was raped. Yes, she was alienated. Yes, she lost her best friend and herself for a while. HOWEVER, when she finally did find a way to reach out to someone at the end of the book, she found that there were many other young women in the school who had gone through a similar experience who rallied behind her. It is a reminder that everyone needs an outlet and a voice. The more we share; the more we can help each other and our students.