Book Thoughts: Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” and Rape

I can no longer count the number of times I’ve read Laurie Halse Anderson‘s Speak. It’s easily one of the most abused books on my shelves – page corners folded to mark favorite parts, quotes and dialogues highlighted so they’re easier to find, yellowing paper, old book smell – I almost had it memorized but that still doesn’t stop me from re-reading it over and over and over again.

More than being one of the most beaten books, it’s also one of the most important ones I own.

book cover

It was Anderson’s protagonist that got me reading, Melinda Sordino, at first. She’s awkward, a misfit and she just wants to get out of high school alive. It was very easy for me to feel and relate to Melinda because her voice in the story was so clear and also at that time when I first read Speak I was sort of going through the same things she went through. Kids can be mean to their fellow youngsters, if you know what I mean.

Eventually, as I got older and started losing count of the number of re-reads I’ve given the book, I found that more than Melinda  it was Speak’s topic that pushed me to turn the pages. It was a sensitive topic, yes, but sadly it’s a part of all of our reality.


It’s sick. It’s a painful truth, a hard pill to swallow. But it happens even if we don’t want to talk about it. It happens more often than we’d like to imagine. All the reports we hear on TV about, that doesn’t even bring the real numbers up, no, not even by a quarter, and it angers me.

I come from a family composed mostly of women – three sisters then my mom – really, my dad is the only guy in our household. Growing up, our parents have greatly been protective of us; we’ve always been reminded that while there are still many good people out there, there’s also a number who carry bad intentions within their hearts and that we’re more at risk because we’re girls. Still, no matter how careful you are, bad things, or in my more normal verbal language, shit happens and happen it did.

A couple of years ago when she was a high school freshman, my youngest sister became a victim of attempted rape. Luckily, there were people passing by the place where the perp brought her and she was rescued. The pervert was caught but her paid bail and is now again free.

What I wouldn’t give to get my hands on him and make sure he won’t ever get another chance to do what he almost did to my sister.

My sister clammed up after that incident. She went through her days doing what she was supposed to but she became unnervingly quiet. It took months before things went back to normal, well, as normal as they could get anyway. Until now there would still be times when she’d be totally quiet.

The bruises, the cuts may heal but the psychological trauma lingers long after the last scabs have flaked off. For many rape victims, it takes a lifetime to deal with what happened to them.

Rape is a highly under-reported crime. According to estimates, for every 4 to 10 rapes, only 1 incidence is reported. This gross under-reporting is largely attributed to the victim’s feelings of shame and guilt, their fear of more injury and the belief that the legal system won’t be able to help them. Victims of rape can be of any age: they can be as young as 15 months old and as old as 82 but the highest incidence rate is in girls and women aged 16 to 24.

And here’s even more disturbing findings about rape. In the recently published United Nations quantitative study titled “Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It?” researchers found out the following: (1) that rape of an intimate partner (girlfriend, wife, common law wife) was more common that non-partner rape in most sites of the study; (2) rape perpetration started early in life: (3) rape was most commonly motivated by a sense of sexual entitlement (with many of the respondents believing that they have the right to sex regardless of consent); and (4) that the majority of rape perpetrators did not experience any legal consequences. The study was conducted in 6 countries from the Asia and the Pacific region. It may not be a worldwide research but it’s the largest of its kind dealing with this particular subject, that is men and their use of violence, and that has to count.

Speak has been in print since 1999. It was relevant then and now, 14 years since its release, it remains to be, maybe even more.

Though its been challenged and banned repeatedly over its whole publication lifetime, it’s books like Speak, books that deal with subjects that are often too difficult to talk about that get to you. These things happen in real life, and these books could save you – tell you you’re not alone, that there are others out there who went through similar stuff and survived, encourage them to stand up and speak out.

There are other Melindas out there, more than we could ever imagine, more than we would ever know. No matter how much we deny it, rape exists and it victimazes millions of men and women out there. It’s plain wrong and it must be stopped.

Now here’s my call for action.

We’re always told to speak out, stand up for what we think is right, and while those are noble and worthy work, we seem to be forgetting something. We’re putting too much emphasis on speaking out but not enough on listening. Let’s all be listeners and speakers; be ears and mouthpieces. Balance things out, I think that’s what we need. We’ll never know when we’ll be helping someone who so desperately needs to be heard.

You’ll never know, it could also work the other way around.

Here are some resources:

Philippine Commission on Women

Women’s Crisis Center Directory

United Nations Development Fund for Women – Philippines

Book Thoughts: Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” and Melinda Sordino’s Five Stages of Speaking Out

For the record, I am a serial re-reader. I’m the kind who, if a story tugs on my reader heartstrings, would read a book over and over and over again without ever tiring of the plot lines and the characters.

There, now that’s out of the way, here’s another fact. I love Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. I can no longer count the number of re-reads I’ve given it. I love the novel’s protagonist, Melinda Sordino, and out of that love (and my inherent compulsion for re-reading books and making sense out of almost everything), this post is born. Ta-da! *falling colorful confetti and glitters*

book cover

But seriously now, Melinda went through such a traumatic experience. It’s something no person should ever go through. But the reality of the world we live in contradicts our want of being safe from harm, and thus the painful truth – that some people hurt other people.

Though Melinda dealt with what happened to her with much courage, it wasn’t at all “all” that easy. It took her time, she went through stages, painful ones. It’s like the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – she went from deciding not to speak to coming to terms with what happened to her to finally speaking out. It took Melinda time to talk about being raped. That’s what speaking out does, it can be tough especially when you feel like no one will listen to you. This world we’re living in puts too much emphasis on speaking out and not enough on listening.

Alright, well, enough about me and what I think. Let me re-focus the spotlight on Melinda.

– Melinda Sordino’s Five Stages of Speaking Out –

Denial aka Deciding not to Speak:

“It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.”

Anger aka Refusing to Speak:

“The suffragettes fought for the right to speak. They were attacked, arrested, and thrown in jail for daring to do what they wanted. Like they were, I am willing to stand up for what I believe. No one should be forced to give speeches. I choose to stay silent.”

“Lawyers on TV always tell their clients not to say anything. The cops say that thing: ‘Anything you say will be used against you.’ Self-incrimination. I looked it up. Three-point vocab word. So why does everyone makes such a big hairy deal about me not talking? Maybe I don’t want to incriminate myself. Maybe I don’t like the sound of my voice. Maybe I don’t have anything to say.”


Bargaining aka Coming to Terms:

“Was I raped?

Oprah: “Let’s explore that. You said no. He covered your mouth with his hand. You were thirteen years old. It doesn’t matter that you were drunk. Honey, you were raped. What a horrible, horrible thing for you to live though. Didn’t you ever think of telling anyone? You can’t keep this inside forever. Can someone get her a tissue?”

Sally Jessy: “I want this boy held responsible. He is to blame for this attack. You do know it was an attack, don’t you? It was not your fault. I want you to listen to me, listen to me, listen to me. It was not your fault. This boy is an animal.”

Jerry: “Was it love? No. Was it lust? No. Was it tenderness, sweetness, the First Time they talk about in magazines? No, no, no, no, no! Speak up, Meatilda, ah, Melinda, I can’t hear you!”

My head is killing me, my throat is killing me, my stomach bubbles with toxic waste. I just want to sleep. A coma would be nice. Or amnesia. Anything, just to get rid of this, these thoughts, whispers in my mind. Did he rape my head, too?”

Depression/Caving In:

“I shouldn’t have raked anything. Look what I started. I shouldn’t have tried something new. I should have stayed in the house. Watched cartoons with a double-sized bowl of Cheerios. Should have stayed in my room. Stayed in my head.”

Acceptance aka Speaking Out:

“I think about lying down. No, that would not do. I crouch by the trunk, my fingers stroking the bark, seeking a Braille code, a clue, a message on how to come back to life after my long undersnow dormancy. I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears! I dig my fingers into the dirt and squeeze. A small, clean part of me waits to warm and burst through the surface. Some quiet Melindagirl I haven’t seen in months. That is the seed I will care for.”

“IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying, or burying, or hiding. Andy Evans raped me in August when I was drunk and too young to know what was happening. It wasn’t my fault. He hurt me. It wasn’t my fault. And I’m not going to let it kill me. I can grow.”

It may have took Melinda some time but eventually she speaks out and she finds people who want to listen to her. Still, there may be other Melindas out there who may not be as lucky to have willing, listening ears for them. There could still be other victims out there who can’t speak out.

I think it’s high time for all of us to be listeners and not just speakers.

P.S. Expect that this is not the last time you’ll hear from me about Speak.

P.P.S. If you have the time, go watch the movie adaptation of this book. It’s good. =)

P.P.P.S. That’s a 13-year old Kristen Stewart playing Melinda Sordino by the way.

Lauren Oliver’s “Before I Fall”, Sam Kingston and Being Imperfectly Perfect

“I know some of you are thinking I deserved it. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent that rose to Juliet or dumped my drink on her at the party. Maybe I shouldn’t have copied off Lauren Lornet’s quiz. Maybe I shouldn’t have said those things to Kent. There are probably some of you who think I deserved it because I was going to let Rob go all the way – because I wasn’t going to save myself.

But before you start pointing fingers, let me ask you: is what I did really so bad? So bad I deserved to die? So bad I deserved to die like that?

Is what I did really so much worse than what anybody else does?

Is it really so much worse than what you do?

Think about it.” 

Says Samantha Kingston, Lauren Oliver’s main protagonist in her 2009 YA debut Before I Fall. Sam is your typical popular girl – pretty, has a hot boyfriend, part of the popular clique, gets away with everything, invited to all the coolest parties – in short, she lives a charmed life. She would have lived the same way, wouldn’t have changed anything until the fatal car crash that took her life and the altering week that came after it where she relived her final day seven more times.

Before I Fall

At first, it’s hard to feel for Sam. She is, after all, the type of girl you’d love to hate. She’s one of the mean girls. She and her friends pick on other people, make fun of them. They blatantly disregard authority and they are reckless to the point of self-destruction. She’s not an easy character to like, not at all.

But then, as the story progresses, Sam bit by bit becomes relatable. She becomes this girl who has been trying to fit in, a girl who only wanted to have friends she can laugh, exchange stories and have fun with. She is a girl trying to go with the flow not wanting to tip things off balance. Sam is every bit just as lost and confused as most of us are, and her quest to know about her death ultimately becomes a way for her to discover herself.

“So many things become beautiful when you really look.”

Sam learned more about herself and the people around her, about her life and her death more than she ever had in her lifetime in that miraculous week. Maybe you could log it as her knowing she’s about to lose all these, everything she’d ever known. You could even say that she came to appreciate her life a little too late but it is that, her realizations which made Sam endearingly real. Maturity, after all, is not something you get by snapping your fingers. Some people grow up and leave their peers behind at quite an early age, while some take time, years even, before they become mature individuals. It doesn’t matter how much time it takes what’s important, in my personal opinion, is that a person does mature and grow into the people they want to be. Sam did that, even if she did trip a lot of times along her way.

“Most of the time – 99 percent of the time – you just don’t know how and why the threads are looped together, and that’s okay. Do a good thing and something bad happens. Do a bad thing and something good happens. Do nothing and everything explodes.

And very, very rarely – by some miracle of chance and coincidence, butterflies beating their wings just so and all the threads hanging together for a minute – you get the chance to do the right thing.”

We can all be judgmental. Admit it, it is always easier to zoom in and magnify everything that’s wrong than it is to praise what is right, especially in people. I know because I’m guilty of it. But at the same time, we all make mistakes and thus there’s always something that we can be judge for.

I believe we’re all just trying to figure out our way around this world. We’re all a series of hits and misses, of trials and errors. But I also believe that at the bottom of all these, all our misguided acts, we just want to do good; we all want to do what we believe is the right thing. We are all imperfect beings striving for perfection. Like everyone else, Samantha Kingston just wanted to do the same thing.

I believe she did.

Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens and Five Quotes about Identity and Self-love

I don’t know who you are or what you do but I’m sure we have at least one thing in common – being a teenager. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been through, going through or will go through it, what matters is that once in our lives we’ve been that young

Being a teenager is one heck of a ride. They don’t call it the “awkward years” for nothing. It is a period full of change. There’s, of course, the body changes all courtesy of your overly active pituitary gland and the hormones it stimulates into release. Then there’s the role changes, you know, bigger shoes to fill, higher expectations to reach, being more responsible, stuff like that. It should be a training ground for when you become an adult yourself but more often than not it turns out to be them, the “grown-ups”, expecting you to act more maturely while they treat (and, hell, still look at you) like a kid. It is beyond annoying.

But body and role changes aside, I think the hardest part of being a teen is defining yourself.

It’s just so hard to be who you want to be when you have so many people around telling you who you should be. Heck, you can’t even figure out what it is you want with all their blabbering.

I know, the search for one’s identity is one search that never ceases. With each day we live, we learn more and more about ourselves – things we didn’t know we like, things we thought we couldn’t do, the list goes on. But I think, and I hope you wouldn’t argue with me on this, that the highest point of that search is during the teenage years.

And that’s exactly what Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens is about. The novel revolves around teen beauty queens whose plane crashed on a supposedly deserted island. They are forced to choose which to put first, preparing for the pagent or fighting for their survival. Of course, there’s more to the story than the summary I just wrote but, as sort of a really short review, the book was smart, witty, funny and sarcastic with a very generous sprinkling of empowering thoughts.

Libba Bray

Speaking of thoughts, since I can’t tell you how to search for your own identity, I have picked five quotes from the book, excerpts which might inspire and help you keep going through your search. Well, alright, maybe it won’t help you with the search but whatever, who cares?! At the very least, I think you’ll be able to identify with these chosen lines from the novel’s protagonists. I did. So, yeah, here we go.


“Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that? You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it’s longer than three sentences or she’s expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, ‘Sorry for the rant’ or ‘That may be dumb, but that’s what I think.’” -Nicole

Everyone has an opinion and, so it goes, everyone also has the right to express that opinion. If you have something to say, say it. Some may agree with you, others won’t. That’s their opinion of your opinion and it is up to you how you’ll react to it – take it or ignore it. But I don’t believe in saying sorry for giving the world your two cent’s worth. Again, it is your right to say your piece on things.

Here’s the catch, though. All rights are not absolute thus we must exercise them with fairness in mind. We can all have our own opinions, we may express them but we must make sure that we do it the right way.  Respect is key here.


“Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.” – Mary Lou

This quote does not only apply to girls but to boys as well. It’s just so hard to be yourself when you’re surrounded by so many people telling you who you should be, what you should do. Add that to the pressures the society and media put upon all of us. It’s almost suffocating.

But here’s what I’ve learned, sometimes you have to fight for the right to be the person you have to be. It takes courage, yes, but it also takes some self-awareness and a whole lot of love for one’s self.


“I don’t know about you but if I’m gonna be chained to a rock by the gods, I’d rather go out as the person who brought fire back from the mountain than as a pure princess who didn’t even have the sense to say to everyone, ‘Oh hell no, you are not sacrificing me to a sea monster.’ “- Mary Lou

This is my personal mantra. Well, at least close to it.

I’m used to winning. Hell! I love winning. I mean, who doesn’t? But sometimes things don’t go our way. Some fights we win, some we lose. I know it’s just so easy to throw your hands up and quit when things go shit side up. But would you rather lose and go out that way? Wouldn’t it be nicer to try and lose than not try at all? Think about it.


“I’ve learned that it takes a village to build a catapult, which is not a city in Mexico, and that uterus is not a dirty word or the name of a planet. I’ve learned that if a guy pretending to be a pirate tells you he’s nothing but trouble, he’s probably right. So you should find somebody else ‘cause there are some really cool guys – and girls – out there. I’ve learned that you can use an old evening gown to catch rainwater and that grubs taste a lot like chicken. I’ve learned how to build a good, strong hut and accesorize it just right. I’ve learned that feminism is for everybody and there’s nothing wrong with taking up space in the world, even if you have to fight for it a little bit, and that if you don’t feel like smiling or waving, that’s okay. You don’t have to, and you don’t have to say sorry. Mostly, I’ve learned that I don’t really care if you like these answers or not, because they’re the best, most honest ones I’ve got, and I just don’t feel like I can cheat myself enough to give you what you want me to say. No offense.” – Tiara

Phew! That was a long one but it’s pretty much self-explanatory so I won’t go babbling about it and you can’t really do anything about that because that’s what I want.


“I love myself. They make it so hard for us to love ourselves.” -Taylor

This I could relate to so much. I have a lot of insecurities when I was a teen, especially when I was in high school. Don’t get me wrong, of course I still I have some until now; it’s just that it has significantly lessened probably because I have found that many of my insecurities as a teen were baseless and/or I have learned to appreciate myself more.

I think that’s it, appreciate yourself more.

Some people can get to you; make you feel bad about yourself. That’s how it was for me then and it dragged me down. I don’t know when it happened but I somehow realized that if I won’t start appreciating myself, no one else will.

But yeah, those people who only tell you what’s wrong with you, they really suck. It may be hard but just ignore them. Don’t let them take over your life, you have a beautiful one and you must live it.

So there, I think that pretty much does it.  It may not be much but those are my thoughts. As for my own search for identity, well, it changes every day but I think I know myself more now than I did yesterday and the days before that. Our search for identity may never end, yes, but whatever it is that we discover about ourselves we must learn to either understand and appreciate, change if it needs changing. We only get one us to love after all.

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and The Power of Words

I have a special interest in books about war. I know it may sound sick but it’s really just the history buff in me kicking and resurfacing. You can also blame my dad since he was the first one who made me get into this stuff.

I find wars hard to understand – from how and why they start to how they rage on down to how they end – there’s a certain mechanism to all of it. Wars are ugly. Wars are messy. Wars are complicated and it is something I don’t want to happen.

But they still do until now.

And that is why I think we need more books about war. We need more things to remind us just how destructive they are because, apparently, the reminders that we already have now are still not enough. We humans have real short memories sometimes.

I’m happy I picked up Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief even if I know it’ll break my heart. True enough, it lived up to my expectations. It broke my heart. It made me think about the effects of war. Most importantly, it made me do a double take on just how powerful words are.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is a story about the power of words.

Set in the middle of Nazi Germany, the novel follows Liesel Meminger’s life during the Second World War as told from Death’s perspective. It covers the events of 1939 -the start of World War II- down to 1943 -the start of the Germans’ fall.

I just have three words to describe this novel: Important. Beautiful. Heartbreaking.

I must admit, my knowledge about World War II is limited to its effects in Asia Pacific because, well, that’s the only thing they teach us in school, which makes me think that World History should be made a compulsory subject. Maybe if we all learn about each other’s, each country’s past struggles we’d be able to understand one another more. We’d be more compassionate. Anyway, that’s just me throwing in my two-cents’ worth into the conversation. Going back, yes, I may have a limited knowledge about WWII but I do know that Adolf Hitler was a gifted and charismatic orator.

Hitler started a war using his words. He knew its powers and he used them to accomplish what he thought was for his people’s good.  Zusak couldn’t have put it better:

“Yes, the Fϋhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will never fire a gun,” he devised. “I will not have to.” Still, he was not rash. Let’s allow him at least that much. He was not a stupid man at all. His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.

He planted them day and night, and cultivated them.

He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany… It was a nation of farmed thoughts.”

So the war began and with it came the prosecution of the Jews and the death of millions of people. All of those because of words. The words of one man became the thought of one nation. Well, almost.

There were still people who resisted Hitler’s words, of course, and they risked their lives just by doing so. Some helped and hid their Jewish friends. Some did not support the Nazi’s cause. This is the conflict provided in Zusak’s novel. He used the Huberman’s to illustrate this point, showing his readers the other side of Nazi Germany. Most importantly, however, the author showed just how important words were during that time. While Hitler destroyed people with his words, a poor girl kept a handful of people alive by reading the words from a stolen book. Later on, she writes her own story amidst all the ugliness of the world surrounding her, and it saved her life. In a way, it is like stealing back the life Hitler’s words took.


I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.

Our words have great power. Put them together and they can do whatever you want them to do – be it to uplift or to hurt; to inspire or to down. Good or bad, it’s our choice. Words become thoughts which in turn can be picked up by a handful of people then passed on to many more.  The effects are tremendous.

That is why we should all be careful about the way we use our words. They are our reflection, they express our thoughts. Yes, the thoughts inside our heads may not always be good but we have the choice to not say them, to not act them out. We should always keep in mind that by saying them out loud our thoughts could reach other people and influence them. It is challenging but it can be done. Being the thinking beings that we are, we should know how to be responsible for the things that come out of our mouths.

Many of the world’s wars, even every day arguments, could have been stopped if people were just more careful about the words they use. More people could feel empowered if only more of us chose to use our words to inspire others. Our words can make so much difference.

I feel like I’ve already stressed so much about how words can work so I’m not going to bore you out any further.  I just hope that somehow I was able to get some important things out. This is, after all, how I choose to use my words.

Originally posted on The Bright-eyed Wanderer 22 June 2013