Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Time to indulge in a little book report...

This book is excellent. If you haven't read it yet, you should. Maybe it's because I can relate it to it on many levels, maybe because it takes place in Syracuse, but I found Laurie Halse Anderson's book "Speak" to be more inspirational than anything I've read or seen in a long time.

The story is about a girl named Melinda who puts on a self-imposed silence during her freshman year of high school in an effort to stamp out a traumatizing incident from the summer before. It isn't until she can identify what happened to her and come to terms with it that she refinds her voice and her sense of self-worth. Told in first person, the mystery of what happened unfolds as the character herself slowly gathers up the courage to face it directly along with the reader. Anderson portrays the hyper-sensitivity of teenage life and high school in America in a clear and understanding tone without any trace of cycism or condescension. The tale also unfolds over the course of one year in Syracuse, a city not too far from my hometown of Rochester, so there's wonderful descriptions of the change of seasons and it reflects Melinda's growth.

It's been a long time since I sat down to read a prose book and finished it in one sitting. Granted Speak isn't a very long book, but these days with my brain being completely crammed with comics and the internet it's saying a lot! There's a tenderness, understanding, and genuine desire to express something in Speak that I've kind of forgotten since I've been trying to slowly figure my way around a graphic novel career. There's so much talk of marketing, target audiences, surface appearances, and sales sometimes the reasons why I became an artist in the first place gets drown out by the noise of practical application. While the practical side is necessary, the most difficult challenge I find for myself these days is getting in touch with that emotional and expressive side that's so essential for good art (or at least what I consider good art).

To me, a piece of entertainment is nothing if it doesn't express a genuine and well understood statement that the author has a passion for. It doesn't matter to me if the perspective is off, or what the drawing style is, if it's super cheesy, or even what medium it's in. I just want to read/see/hear/make heartfelt, expressive stuff. Speak is a strong reminder of this, and as I finished reading the last page I found myself inspired.

You'd think it would be an easy lesson to remember. I believe stories are healing and as a storyteller I want to help people heal, but when there's bills to pay and goals to achieve it can be easy to forget. For this reason Speak now has a permanant place on my shelf of inspirational books, as it reminds me of why I do this in the first place.

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