Laurie Halse Anderson is my favorite author of "regular" books, meaning traditional prose. More than that, she is one of my favorite human beings because, well, she is just so human. I have had the privilege of seeing her speak about her books and her life, she even came to speak to my wife's 8th grade Language Arts students and with my own children. In a house full of books and book-lovers, it is no small compliment to say that Laurie stands out as a hero in my house. You simply must follow Laurie on Twitter - @halseanderson to see what she is up to and how she inspires readers around the world. I already loved her for the Chains Trilogy and other books, but this graphic novel adaptation of Speak just blew me away. This is one of those books that means so much to so many, and some people voiced their concerns of putting this beloved text into a graphic novel. Hell, I even had my concerns, despite my insane love for all things comics and graphic novels. However, I have not had a graphic novel impact me more than this one. What Emily Carroll (also creator of the amazing Through the Woods graphic novel) was able to do with the illustrations literally left me astounded, page after page. There were so many important parts of Speak that I was afraid simply wouldn't transfer from my mind to someone else's illustrative interpretation. After seeing what Carroll was able to create, she added so much more meaning to an already powerful book. I had to stop many times and just mentally process what I was seeing - below is a picture of all my sticky notes as I read both version of the books. I have heard similar responses from educators around the country as I present on the power of comics in education. Those who have read the graphic novel version of the book agree with me. It is funny when I talk about this book in presentations - there is always an audible gasp from the audience as people are dumbfounded that there is a graphic novel version. I give away a copy or two at each presentation and, in the midst of other graphic novel prize offers, this is always the first to be taken. I have also brought a few copies into my classroom - I cannot keep it in the classroom as student after student borrows it - one after the other.
Admittedly, graphic novels can sometimes mess with one's mental images, skip parts of the text, or awkwardly combine much into one panel. This is just not the case here, and I think that this graphic novel is the perfect example for the power of this medium. As an example, I was better able to understand the role of the trees as an integral character in the story - only after reading the graphic novel version.
There are several cases in the book where no words are present - the images speak so much to the reader in such powerful and moving ways.
The eyes throughout the book will make you feel haunted, introspective, and often powerless.
This is THE panel for me. There were many powerful moments in the book, I often closed the book and had to mentally reflect before being able to move on. It is this panel that speaks the most to this not being a "girls" story. For one, it is so important for boys/men to read this book to get an understanding of the mental/emotional and physical impact of female objectification and rape culture. But it also speaks to the voiceless and damaged people the world over. So many of us have been through awful circumstances and have internalized these experiences, too afraid or embarrassed, or even terrified, to speak out. I suffer from depression and anxiety myself. I was sexually abused by two people in my life. I am now in my 40s, and it wasn't until seeing this one page that I finally internalized that I needed to find my voice, that it wasn't my fault, and that it was ok to seek help - to end the stigma as it were. Imagine that - one page in a graphic novel, to make a life-changing impact on my life. This book is that powerful. I have begun to find my voice. I have had this same beast in my gut, sitting on my ribs for too long, as so many of us have. I have a parent who has a mental disorder and has been both emotionally and physically abusive to me my entire life as well. I was never able to talk about this either, it is this image, and the connection to the beast on my own ribs that made me understand. Thank you, Emily. Thank you, Laurie.
When you read Laurie's books, it really is like having a conversation with her. Amazing.
The end of the book does not leave us powerless or without hope. It is, despite all odds, empowering.
My daughter was inspired to research Sybil Ludington for her 5th grade research project because of Laurie and her Independent Dames book. What are History teacher and Language Arts teacher parents to do? Yep - track down the town and statue dedicated to Ludington!
Below are some of the other books you need to buy...