Fourteen-year-old Melinda is raped at a summer party by an older student who attends the same school. She immediately phones 911 but, traumatized. is unsuccessful in reporting the crime. However, the party is still shut down by police and Melinda is shunned by her classmates who have no idea of the rationale behind the call. Melinda becomes more and more silenced by her classmates, teachers, and parents as the school year continues. Her only secure mode of communication is through her art project on trees. Emily Carroll’s depiction of Melinda’s challenges and growth with her art and expression effectively exults art as healing, power, and communication.
Published in it’s original prose form in 1999, and awarded the 2000 Printz Honor, the graphic novel version of Speak reframes the commanding novel in contemporary times and features outstanding illustrations and pacing that carry the power of Laurie Halse Anderson’s reworked text. Anderson was enthusiastic about adapting her novel for the emerging Young Adult graphic novel scene, wrote the script in 2015, and was soon joined by graphic novel artist Emily Carroll. After the graphic novel hit the shelves the two creators finally met face-to-face when they were both on a panel at NYC ComicCon in October 2017.
Canadian artist Carroll is known for her creepy, eerie, and supernatural compositions from her web comic His Face All Red—collected in Through the Woods, her anthology of evocative paranormal comics—and her enchanting illustrations reworking folklore in Baba Yaga’s Assistant. She was first choice for both Anderson and the publisher and they knew their stuff. Their collaboration is breathtaking and especially relevant in today’s discussions of sexuality, consent, rape, and, of course, #MeToo.
The irregular layout and panel arrangements, “internal” font, and the often wordless black, white and greyscale illustrations afford this story breathless and speechless (pardon the pun) moments. The art is able to show and convey the inner and outer torment that Melinda experiences as she begins to acknowledge the intense and hidden pain, horror, and ongoing consequences of her sexual assault. The concrete evidence of Melinda’s emotional turmoil is exemplified by the “chewed-up horror of a mouth” and expressive facial features that tell the story all on their own. The successful marriage of the illustrations and Anderson’s adapted text encapsulates the distressing, uncomfortable, and chilling emotions of Melinda’s tale. It is unfortunate that her story is much too common even 20 years after the novel was first published.
This atmospheric reworking of the novel stands alone for a new generation of readers. Nothing is sugar-coated and the characters are well-rounded and totally recognizable. There are also moments of delightful and sarcastic humour that are effectively brought to life by the text and illustrations. Highly recommended.
Speak: The Graphic Novel
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Art by Emily Carroll
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Grade 7 +