Genre: Poetry/Memoir | Diversity: #OwnVoices sexual assault survivor
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Shame turned inside out is rage.”
Shout is one of those books that touches someplace deep inside and makes it nearly impossible to write a coherent review of any sort. Still, I’m going to try.
In this memoir in verse, Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the revolutionary 1999 Young Adult novel, Speak, tells her true story for the first time. Through haunting, poignant poems, Anderson details her childhood, from her mother’s silence to her father’s PTSD. When she was thirteen, Anderson was raped by an older boy she considered a friend, and she spent her high school years dealing with the aftermath in some pretty unhealthy ways.
Although it’s slow-moving to start, I loved the opportunity to learn more about an author I admire.
Through this book, I discovered the ways that Speak came from Anderson’s true experience. She struggled to deal with the aftermath of her rape because she had no examples of positive coping skills. She talks about how her father drank to forget his war trauma, and her mother had no voice whatsoever. Thus, 14-year-old Anderson turned to drinking and smoking pot to dull the pain of being raped. She had no positive influences in her life to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, that she hadn’t been asking for it, that she was more than this one act of violence.
I also really connected with the brief passages about her journey as a writer. A lot of young writers have this perception that great writers are just born that way, that they sit down to write their first book and gold falls out onto the page. Anderson writes about her struggle to find her voice as a writer, from attempting to write picture books for her children, to writing novels and other works that were rejected over and over again. It was so comforting to me to learn that I’m not the only one who’s struggled to find my way as a writer. Anderson never expected Speak to even be published, much less to win awards and make her a household name (at least within kid lit/YA circles).
This isn’t a plot-driven memoir whatsoever. Nor is it fully a memoir.
The second half of the book follows Anderson as she writes and publishes Speak, a story about a 14-year-old high school freshman who’s struggling to survive her own rape. In the second half of the book, Anderson writes about her unexpected fame and the censorship that follows writing openly about sexual assault. This part of the book forms a poignant call-to-action. She writes about how many kids she’s spoken to in the years following Speak’s fame, but also how many times she’s been told to censor herself, how many school libraries have banned her book. She calls attention to these instances to point out how “censorship is the child of fear/the father of ignorance” — not talking about rape doesn’t prevent it from happening.
Anderson also does a beautiful job of connecting her story to that of other sexual assault survivors across the world. She shares a few of their stories, from a man who confessed “I am Melinda” to the young woman whose education was ruined when her rapists were allowed to continue in theirs. These poems go a long way in showing the prevalence of sexual assault and how our culture creates a space for it. She writes that we as a society have a duty to educate our men better than we are currently. She also shows the different types of sexual assault, from the young people who were assaulted but not “technically” raped, to the young men who are molested by priests. I really appreciated how she incorporated men’s stories as well.
While this book was incredibly difficult to read, emotionally, I can only imagine how powerful this book will be.
So many young people desperately need to know that it wasn’t their fault, that they’re not alone, that they can shout their truth to the world. This is the kind of book with the power to change lives for the better, and I’m grateful for the chance to read it.
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Have you read Shout or Speak? What are some books you’ve appreciated that discuss sexual assault? Do survivors have an obligation to speak up about their experiences? Let me know what you think!