by Laurie Halse Anderson
"'Art without emotion is like chocolate cake without sugar. It makes you gag.' He sticks his finger down his throat. 'The next time you work on your trees, don't think about trees. Think about love, or hate, or joy, or pain- whatever makes you feel something, makes your palms sweat, or your toes curl. Focus on that feeling.
When people don't express themselves, they die on piece at a time. You'd be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside- walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a mack truck to come along and finish the job. It's the saddest thing I know.”
After calling the police at a party, Melinda enters her first year of high school ostracized. She has never told anyone what happened that night. She retreats into herself, silent on the outside, while inside she struggles with the event, with her feelings, with her parents, with school, with her ex-friends. She must gradually discover who she is again and how to turn her pain into strength, her depression into hope, her silence into words.
Please note that this review has spoilers in it, but the main spoiler was something I knew before reading the book, and it did not effect my enjoyment.
I only read this book because my first choice wasn’t available. I had heard how popular the book was, and for some reason, that turned me off. I also thought of it as “The Rape Book.” Oh, it’s that story of the girl who got raped and how horrible she feels and how damaged she has become. I tend not to read books that I think will put be through an emotional cheese grater. When staring down the barrel of these books, I can’t imagine any hope in them.
I am so very glad that I did not listen to me.
I would like to echo Laurie Halse Anderson’s realization that it is not a book about rape. Yes, rape happened. It was awful. Melinda had to go through a lot to be able to heal. The book is more about depression. About living with the after effects of trauma. It’s also about high school, politics, not fitting in, finding your true friends, and in the end speaking the truth about who you are.
Melinda’s voice was so distinct and yet so familiar. I was with her every step of the way. I too have created a little closet for myself at work where I can be alone and no one can find me. I too have felt mute because I was too afraid to speak up about how I felt, or what happened, or against or for something. I too have felt like everyone thinks I am awful, or that I had no one to talk to. This book is for everyone, boys and girls.
Ultimately, the book is about healing. About slowly rediscovering who you are. About having the courage to peak out of the ground and feel the sunshine. Anderson is marvelously sublte. She gradually builds a beautiful metaphor of thawing and growing and seeds and clearing away weeds to convey Melinda’s journey. She also does not make anything easy or fast for Melinda. She takes her time, and as she lets glimmers of herself out into the world, she is rewarded with an answer.
She is able to turn pain into strength, and, unlike Desert Angel, her final confrontation is as cathartic as it gets.
This book is so important right now, especially with the discussion of rape culture raging in both main stream and social media. I was greeted today with this article about how Patton Oswalt has changed his mind about rape jokes, and how other comedians are following suit. And this blog post of a former Disney employee telling her story about how she was raped, and reported it, and how the company reacted.
I was shocked to find out that Anderson was asked by boy readers why Melinda was so upset about being raped. They don't understand. This is why we need to talk about it, rather than remain silent.