Saturday, April 06, 2019

Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Fourteen years ago, I started this blog with a review of Speak – a book that, at the time, was already a best-seller and just starting to find its controversial inclusion (or exclusion) from high school reading lists.  The novel was funny, intelligent, moving, and ultimately devastating.  Long before there was #MeToo, there was Speak.  When Anderson went out on tour, she found that there was a great number of readers who connected to the book, not so much because it was well-written (although that didn’t hurt!), but because it spoke to them.  To them, Malinda's story was devastating because it was their own.  And her struggle to regain her voice was an inspiration.

While the novel was inspirational for many, it was also easy to trivialize the book as just a piece of fiction.  But what made the novel so meaningful was that it never was just a piece of fiction.  It told a story that was real, even if the names and the specific circumstances were altered.  Shout is thus a corrective of sorts, a companion that sets the story straight.  Part memoir and part call to arms, Anderson is no longer spinning a tale.  The first section of the book covers Anderson’s own life, including the incident that scarred her and the process of recovery she went through in its aftermath.  Part two branches out into her professional career, discussing the writing of Speak and the response she received to it.  A short final section closes the biography with stories of her family.

Written in verse, there are definitely stronger sections, pieces that are truly exceptional as standalone works and others that are more functional and simply move the story along.  When she hits the mark (which is also usually when she is most angry) the pages simply burn. The story isn't particularly groundbreaking (certainly, if you’ve been even mildly conscious, you won’t be surprised by the horror of sexual violence’s prevalence) but it is still chilling to hear Anderson recount the blank stares and denial she encounters at her high school talks or the number of authority figures who have tried to silence her or deny the facts she presents. The issue I have with verse is that, while it carries the illusion of intimacy, it is also a way of distancing both the author and the reader from events.  It allows the storytelling to fade out at awkward moments or skip over things that the author would prefer to not bring up.  In the end, it is less revealing than prose.

Regardless, this intimate memoir is an essential companion to her earlier classic.

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