Book Club Pick: June 2016
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Series: Stand alone novel
Country: United States
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
First Published: 1999
From her first moment at Merryweather High, Melinda Sordino knows she’s an outcast. She busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops – a major infraction in high-school society – so her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t know glare at her. She retreats into her head, where the lies and hypocrisies of high school stand in stark relief to her own silence, making her all the more mute. But it’s not so comfortable in her head, either – there’s something banging around in there that she doesn’t want to think about. Try as she might to avoid it, it won’t go away, until there is a painful confrontation. Once that happens, she can’t be silent – she must speak the truth. In this powerful novel, an utterly believable, bitterly ironic heroine speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while learning that, although it’s hard to speak up for yourself, keeping your mouth shut is worse.
The novel opens with Melinda Sordino starting her high school freshman year. She has been ostracised by her friends and fellow students after she called the cops at a summer party. It is clear that something happened. I think most readers will be able to predict what happened at the party but I won’t spoil it.
At school Melinda is befriended by a new girl Heather, only to later be ditched for ‘the Marthas’ a group of popular girls.
She becomes more depressed (Melinda is probably suffering from undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder) and begins to skip school and frequently challenges parental and authority figures, who see her silence simply as attention seeking behaviour.
There are also literary parallels with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), which Melinda is studying in English. Hester Prynne, the central character of The Scarlet Letter, like Melinda is a social outcast. Melinda also has a poster of author / poet Maya Angelou in her closet. Angelou was a outsider like Melinda and her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) had been banned by the school.
The novel is written in first person and almost reads like Melinda’s diary. Anderson uses a non-linear narrative with flashbacks disrupting the present. This fragmented narrative structure illustrates Melinda’s depressed state and the trauma she has suffered.
Also what is interesting is that Melinda works through her depression and PSTD herself without seeking professional help, although she does receive support from her lab partner David Petrakis and her art teacher Mr. Freeman.
This coming-of-age problem novel is about a young woman finding her own voice, and speaking up and allowing the truth to set her free. It is a powerful piece of writing for a debut novel.
In 2004 a film version directed by Jessica Sharzer starring Kristin Stewart screened at the Sundance Film Festival and screened on Showtime and Lifetime the following year.
Source: I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library.