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March 10, 2011

Reading Update: Trigger Happy

Laurie Halse Anderson Speak

What a great book (despite the ending, which wrapped up a little too neatly)! A girl starts high school an outcast because of something she did over the summer: dropped by all of her friends, and incapable of speaking up for herself. It becomes clear [SPOILER], long before she addresses it, that she was raped at a party and feels disempowered and silenced as a result. Anderson does a fantastic job of layering in the symbolic and the subtle, exploring how time and growth can bring a person's power and voice back, and all the various ways in which teenage girls are silenced. I was particularly struck by how she shows girls being punished for speaking up: by their parents, teachers, classmates, and even their friends.

The protag starts out looking passive and victimized, but by the end of the book, you realize that perhaps she's the strongest character of all of these. Her instinct to be silent may be less the instinct of the eternal victim than that of the wounded predator who hides in her den to lick her wounds. When she comes roaring out at the end, it's not at all unexpected or inconsistent.

Also, I finally understand about trigger warnings. Speak was totally triggering me at the beginning, before Anderson started delving into the reasons behind the protag's ostracism. The bullying and ostracism itself was so upsetting to me that I was reading a page or so at a time and then pacing around my house (or the BART station, or wherever) yelling silently in my head at various characters in the book and memories in my head. Angry angry and frustrated. I finally realized I was doing it and managed to settle down and focus on the book -- but only by distancing myself from it somewhat.

My only quibble: the book is written in first person. It kind of (as in, very much) detracts from the power of the protag's silence when she is speaking to us throughout the book. If it had been in third person, particularly if it was sometimes close third and sometimes objective third, the times the protag spoke would have been infinitely more powerful, without the author losing the ability to get inside her head.

Otherwise, strongly recommended for teen girls and boys.

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