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Speak Summary


Here you will find a Speak summary (Laurie Halse Anderson's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Speak Summary Overview

The narrative centers around a young girl, Melinda Sordino, who struggles with the traumatic aftermath of a sexual assault she suffered at a summer party. As she begins high school, she faces rejection from her old friends and becomes the target of bullying. She makes a new friend in Heather, a new girl who is eager to be popular, but her former best friend, Rachel, remains oblivious to the struggles Melinda went through at the party. Throughout the school year, Melinda navigates her classes, focusing particularly on an art project about a tree, while also dealing with feelings for her lab partner, David Petrakis. Despite her struggles, she remains silent about her assault, with the perpetrator, only referred to as "IT", haunting her thoughts. Melinda's coping mechanisms include skipping classes, using stolen late passes, and hiding away in a vacant janitor’s closet she transforms into a sanctuary. At a homecoming rally, she is targeted once again for calling the police the night of the party. She communicates with her parents through notes left on the refrigerator and hides her mirror in her closet, unable to face herself. As her school performance suffers, her parents chastise her for her poor grades, but she remains silent about the true source of her troubles. In the final marking period, Melinda finds a reprieve in art under the guidance of Mr. Freeman, and her work begins to show promise. However, she still struggles with loneliness and fear, especially as she learns that Rachel is now dating her attacker. Feeling obliged to protect Rachel, she warns her about "IT" in an anonymous note. When she finally admits she was raped, Rachel rejects her, accusing her of jealousy. An inspiring moment occurs when she discovers other girls have added derogatory terms under her attacker's name in a bathroom stall list of "guys to avoid." Her journey reaches a climax when "IT" attacks her again in her sanctuary closet. This time, she fights back, screaming "No!" and threatening him with broken mirror glass, finally reclaiming her voice. The school year ends with Melinda emerging stronger and somewhat of a hero, finishing her art project and earning an A+.

first marking period part 1

On her first day at Merryweather High, Melinda anxiously awaits the bus, dreading the prospect of interacting with her former friends. Once at school, she finds herself alone as her peers form cliques. She observes the school's mascot being repainted as the Blue Devils, aiming to promote an "abstinence message." The ninth grade students gather in the auditorium. Melinda, now an "Outcast," no longer fits into her old group, the "Plain Janes," which has splintered into various cliques. She longs to confide in Rachel, her ex-best friend, about the summer's events. However, Rachel coldly mouths, “I hate you,” leaving Melinda biting her lip till it bleeds. Melinda meets Heather, a new student, as the assembly starts. After the assembly, Melinda has trouble locating her biology class, earning her first demerit. Melinda nicknames her English teacher “Hairwoman,” and struggles to understand the class journal concept. Meanwhile, her social studies teacher, Mr. Neck, who had earlier noticed Melinda's lonely state, assigns her a front seat and warns her to behave. Melinda then gets her lunch but spills her meal after a senior nicknamed "Basketball Pole" bumps into her, causing the cafeteria crowd to laugh. As she rushes out, she collides with Mr. Neck again, who hands her a second demerit, predicting she would be troublesome. In art class, Melinda wishes she could reconnect with her former friend Ivy as Mr. Freeman challenges them all to discover their souls. He tasks them with transforming the object named on a piece of paper they pick into artwork – Melinda gets "tree." When she attempts to pick another, Mr. Freeman blocks her, stating, “You just chose your destiny, you can’t change that.” In the Spanish class, the teacher announces she won't use English all year. The students scramble to understand her, resorting to Spanish-English dictionaries for help.

first marking period part 2

Melinda has survived two weeks of school without a breakdown, even though her ex-friends shun her and she's often deliberately knocked around in the corridors. Her family barely communicate, instead leaving notes for each other on the fridge. Her mother is preoccupied with problems at her clothing store job. Melinda secretly treats herself to pizza for dinner but makes sure to hide any evidence before her father gets home. She avoids her father and retreats to her still-pink bedroom, which she's had since fifth grade. Rather than do homework, she hides under her bed sheets and eventually takes down her mirror, hiding it in her closet. At school, Melinda often hides in the bathroom, where she observes a tense encounter between the principal and a rule-breaking student. In her gym class, she knows Heather and Nicole; the latter is popular with the gym teachers due to her soccer skills and niceness, which makes it difficult for Melinda to resent her. Rachel, Melinda's former best friend who now goes by Rachelle and mingles with foreign students, is also in the bathroom. Melinda yearns to confront Rachel about her mistreatment, but instead, they exchange banal conversation. After the encounter, Melinda realizes she needs a friend, even a superficial one. Heather tries to convince Melinda to join a club, but Melinda thinks it's pointless. She's starting to find Heather annoying, likening her to an overzealous dog. When asked about her goals, all Melinda wants is to go home and take a nap. After missing her study hall due to makeup work, Melinda ends up late the next day when the study hall location changes. She accidentally stumbles upon an unused janitor's closet while trying to dodge a teacher looking for her late homework. She decides to turn it into her own private sanctuary and swipes a pad of late passes for future use. During the Homecoming Rally, Melinda is forced to sit in the ninth grade section with Heather. She's recognized and bullied for calling the police at a party, causing some students to be arrested. She remains silent, unable to share her side of the story. She observes the cheerleaders, concluding they live double lives: sleeping with football players on weekends but acting like "virginal goddesses" during the week. The rally ends with Melinda being "accidentally" knocked down several rows of bleachers.

first marking period part 3

Melinda struggles to create a convincing image of lightning-struck trees in her art class. She feels her drawings lack emotion and worries her teacher, Mr. Freeman, will think the same. Melinda spends Columbus Day at Heather’s house, where Heather expresses her difficulties in making friends. A mishap with a spilt bottle of nail polish leads to Heather venting her frustrations on Melinda. Despite this, Heather reassures Melinda they will find their place in a good friend group. Melinda's deteriorating academic performance prompts a serious discussion with her parents. Overwhelmed, Melinda retreats to her room, seeking solace in music to drown out her parents’ arguments. Melinda finds it hard to engage in her biology class and feels sympathy for their teacher, Ms. Keen, who has to deal with their apathy. She briefly admires her lab partner, David Petrakis, but he remains indifferent to her. Similarly, in algebra class, Melinda finds herself unable to solve a problem, leading to a humiliating moment in front of the class. Melinda spends Halloween alone in her room, reminiscing about previous celebrations with her friends, reading, and listening to her parents argue. A debate ensues in school about changing the mascot from Devils to Tigers. Melinda gets teased in Spanish class due to the meaning of her name. She imagines that aliens may have transported her to an alternate universe to study her reactions. Heather joins a charitable group called the "Marthas." Melinda helps Heather with a task but is labeled as "creepy" by the group. Hurt, she retreats to the bathroom. Melinda is haunted by the constant presence of "IT," a living nightmare she can't escape. Melinda's report card reflects her struggles, with mostly C's and B's, one D, and a single A in Art.

second marking period part 1

The school can't settle on a mascot. Options such as The Bees, Icebergs, Hilltoppers, and Wombats are considered. Melinda's parents force her to stay after school for homework, but she spends this time in her closet secret hideout. She often reflects on a traumatic event, acknowledging the indelible mark it left on her. Melinda chooses to work instead of pretending not to understand in Spanish class to avoid detention. Career assessments suggest Melinda should consider firefighting, forestry, communications, or mortuary science. Heather's results point towards nursing. Mr. Neck sparks a class debate with xenophobic comments on immigration. David Petrakis defends constitutional rights, labels the lesson as racist and intolerant, and walks out of class when reprimanded, leaving a strong impression on Melinda. Despite usually having pizza for Thanksgiving, Melinda's mom attempts and fails to cook a turkey. They resort to pizza again after her dad's soup turns out poorly. Melinda brings turkey bones to art class, creating an expressive piece with a barbie head. Mr. Freeman and Ivy appreciate her work. A biology lesson on fruits triggers Melinda's childhood memories of an apple orchard. She is fascinated to find an apple tree sprouting from an apple seed. David Petrakis continues to stand against Mr. Neck by bringing a tape recorder and later a video camera to class, earning Melinda's admiration. At the Winter Assembly, Heather gifts Melinda bell earrings. Melinda decides to gift Heather a friendship necklace in return. Melinda decorates a Christmas tree alone and reminisces about believing in Santa Claus. She receives art supplies from her parents and contemplates revealing her secret trauma, but the painful memories silence her. This section highlights the irony of democracy in school affairs and personal expression. Melinda's dismissive attitude towards the mascot voting process contrasts with the significant free speech debate initiated by Mr. Neck. David Petrakis stands up against Mr. Neck, representing the bravery needed to challenge injustice. His silent protest with a tape recorder symbolizes reclaiming one's voice, mirroring Melinda's internal struggle. Melinda's desire to disclose her trauma is evident throughout these chapters. Her art piece with a silenced Barbie aligns with her urge to speak but inability to do so. Discovering a sprouting seed in a dissected apple symbolizes her wish to become resilient enough to speak. Her parents' Christmas gift of art supplies indicates understanding and consideration, prompting Melinda to consider revealing her secret. Nevertheless, the trauma of her past suppresses her urge to share.

second marking period part 2

Throughout the remainder of winter vacation, Melinda is forced to work for her parents at their respective businesses, triggering her frustration. She eagerly anticipates school's reopening. During a gym session, Melinda exhibits exceptional basketball skills, drawing praise from her schoolmates and coach. She declines the opportunity to join the team due to her poor academic performance. The coaches plot to have her tutor a fellow student, Brendan, who had previously picked on her, in exchange for a higher gym grade. Melinda decides to be absent instead. Melinda remains dissatisfied with her tree sculpture in art class. Concurrently, her art teacher, Mr. Freeman, is creating a protest artwork against the school board's decision to slash funding for arts education. Heather, Melinda's friend, enlists Melinda's help in creating posters for a food drive, in her attempt to be accepted into the school's elite group, the Marthas. Melinda agrees, but finds herself zoning out during Heather's monologue. In Biology class, Melinda faints during a frog dissection session. She fears that the doctor treating her might uncover the secret she's been hiding. Heather starts a new job as a model, and asks Melinda to accompany her to a photo shoot. Melinda feels uncomfortable when the photographer keeps asking Heather to act "sexy". In Algebra, Melinda struggles to focus as Mr. Stetman tries to demonstrate the practical relevance of the subject. In English class, the continuous flow of challenging essay assignments overwhelm her, leading Melinda to conclude that "Words are hard work." Melinda spends two weeks working on Heather's posters. While distributing them, Melinda has an unsettling encounter with her assaulter, whom she refers to as 'IT'. The encounter triggers a nauseating response in her. Melinda's parents argue with her about her poor grades during dinner. She escapes to her room where she self-harms, and her mother dismisses her distress the following morning. At lunch, a fellow student criticizes Heather's posters and Heather fails to defend Melinda. When Melinda spots 'IT', now associated with the name Andy Evans, she flees to the bathroom to vomit. Mr. Freeman faces punishment for his teaching practices, and reacts by destroying his artwork. Melinda injures herself while starting a new art project. Melinda's report card displays mostly average and below-average grades, except for an 'A' in Art.

third marking period part 1

The school's head changes the mascot from a Wombat to the Hornets. Melinda oversleeps, misses the bus and walks to school in the snowy weather, stopping to get doughnuts. As she leaves the bakery, she encounters IT and panics, wishing she had run away sooner. Unable to handle attending school, Melinda decides to skip the rest of the day and goes to the mall. She aimlessly roams around, watches the birds, and yearns for the simpler times of her fifth-grade year, wishing she could confess her secret. During English class, they study The Scarlet Letter and its use of symbolism, which Melinda finds somewhat enjoyable. The teacher punishes Rachelle for protesting against the symbolism study with a 500-word essay, making Melinda think twice about voicing her opinion. In art class, Melinda struggles with her tree project. Heather abruptly ends her friendship with Melinda during lunch, claiming that they never really shared common interests and that Melinda is the most depressed person she has ever met. This leaves Melinda shocked and hurt. In her frustration, Melinda chooses to skip her Spanish class. On Valentine's Day, Melinda finds a note on her locker but is skeptical about opening it in fear of being made fun of. She fantasizes about her lab partner, David, leaving the note. When she finally opens it, she finds a thank you note from Heather and the friendship necklace she had given her, which breaks her heart. Melinda ends up at the Lady of Mercy Hospital, having fallen asleep on the bus. She realizes that her problems aren't as visible as the patients' illnesses. Later, she's confronted about her failing grades and frequent absences. Her parents express frustration and accuse her of seeking attention. Her guidance counselor suggests there might be marital issues at home, which the parents strongly deny. Melinda finds herself in in-school suspension under Mr. Neck's supervision. Everything seems ordinary until IT enters the room and sits next to her, triggering anxiety and fear in her.

third marking period part 2

Melinda's creative block is acknowledged by Mr. Freeman, who introduces her to Picasso's art. After initially being taken aback by Picasso's fixation on nudity, she becomes captivated by his genius and the power of his cubism. Energized, she starts drawing again, earning Mr. Freeman's approval. Melinda starts to fulfill her responsibilities by attending classes and completing assignments. Her reward is a solo shopping trip, as her mother is too busy to accompany her. On her way, she's caught in a blizzard, but Mr. Freeman offers her a ride. They discuss art and he encourages her to express her emotions through her paintings. He reminds her that he is there to listen if she needs to talk. While shopping for jeans, Melinda examines herself in a dressing room mirror, questioning if the reflection truly represents her. She studies her damaged lips and wonders what it would feel like to start over. In biology class, they finish their plant unit. Melinda is fascinated by the survival process of seeds and admires their resilience. With no friends to lean on, Melinda eats lunch alone to avoid drawing attention to herself in the cafeteria. She tries to ignore possible ridicule from other students. Being from Syracuse, eight inches of snow doesn't shut down the school. In English class, they discuss symbols in Hawthorne’s work. Melinda appreciates the peacefulness of the snow after the storm. Melinda finds some solace in her closet, but is drawn out by the cheering from a school basketball game. During the celebration, Melinda feels a rare sense of community. However, she declines an invitation from David Petrakis, revealing her internal struggle between wanting a normal teenager's life and fearing the world. Melinda finally shares the traumatic experience she's been suppressing. During a summer party, she was assaulted by a senior student. In her shock, she anonymously calls the police but leaves the party before they arrive, retreating to her deserted home. Melinda's report card is mostly poor, with majority D's and F’s, except for a sole A in Art.

fourth marking period part 1

Numerous parents aren't fans of the school's hornet mascot due to a suggestive cheer. Despite this, the student council continues to support the mascot. Spring arrives with college acceptance letters for seniors. Melinda mostly attends her classes and observes Andy "Beast" flirting with Rachel/Rachelle at the International Club. Melinda bumps into Ivy at the mall during spring break. Ivy has been sketching clown faces for art class and encourages Melinda to try drawing, despite Melinda's doubts about her artistic abilities. The biology class begins studying genetics, excluding sexual reproduction topics. Melinda finds her mind wandering, imagining her real parents as royalty, and sketches a willow tree. Melinda learns that Rachel/Rachelle is seeing Andy Beast, causing her concern due to her past with Andy. She witnesses an uncomfortable kiss between them. Disturbed by Rachel's involvement with Andy, Melinda contemplates informing Rachel's foreign friends about rumors of Andy's past aggressive behavior towards a younger student. Displeased with her tree design, Melinda discards it. Her art teacher, Mr. Freeman, gives her advice about the beauty of imperfection, encouraging her to embody the tree in her work. David Petrakis wins the right to freely express himself in Mr. Neck's class, leading to stricter grading. Melinda submits a well-researched report on suffragettes, only to be told she must present it orally. Fearing her oral presentation, Melinda takes inspiration from suffragettes to stage a silent protest, refusing to give speeches. Her actions result in a suspension and a D grade, but she remains unapologetic. David and Melinda discuss the aftermath of her protest. Their conversation turns playful, hinting at a potential friendship, and David suggests he might call her during the summer.

fourth marking period part 2

Melinda focuses on her tree drawings, with Mr. Freeman giving her encouragement. When he goes away for a meeting, Andy, aka IT, shows up unexpectedly. He disturbs her artwork as he sits on the table, asking about Rachelle Bruin. Before he leaves, he tears up her drawing and goes out with Rachel. Melinda assumes Rachel saw the note but chose to overlook it. Ivy, who arrives with Rachel, seems to sense Andy's dangerous nature, warning Melinda he is "trouble with a capital ‘T’.” Choosing to take a "mental-health day", Melinda stays home. Her mother, surprised by her daughter’s sudden willingness to speak, unintentionally makes a snide comment but quickly apologizes. Battling a fever, Melinda watches talk shows and questions if she was sexually assaulted. She fantasizes about her story being on these shows, while also desiring to forget everything that happened. With spring’s arrival, Melinda feels rejuvenated and spends her time gardening. Her father praises her efforts and offers to help improve the yard too. Although she declines his invitation to the store, she requests him to buy some flower seeds. In a tennis match during gym class, Melinda enjoys the competition as she nearly defeats Nicole, a former friend. With the yearbook's arrival, Melinda finds the signing ritual pointless and chooses not to purchase one. Hairwoman, her teacher, now sports a buzz cut, leaving Melinda curious about the reason behind such a significant change. An accidental stain by Ivy leaves Melinda in the bathroom where she discovers various notes on the stall walls. Amid their conversation about Andy, Ivy reveals his notorious reputation. Melinda contributes by adding his name to a list on the stall wall implying "Guys to Stay Away From." Melinda sarcastically terms the Senior Prom as the culmination of mating season. Heather, desperate for Melinda’s help with prom decorations, tries to mend their friendship. Although embarrassed by the disorderly state of her room, Melinda firmly refuses to assist Heather.

fourth marking period part 3

Melinda feels stronger and determined to reveal the truth about Andy to Rachel. In a library conversation using notes, she reveals that she called the police because she was raped at the party. Rachel reacts negatively to the revelation, accusing Melinda of jealousy and freakish behavior before storming out. Feeling lost, Melinda is approached by Ivy who shows her a warning written in the school bathroom about Andy. Melinda feels a sense of validation and release at seeing the warnings. Melinda feels uneasy about the trimming of a tree near her window but her father assures her it will grow stronger. She visits the place where she was raped and decides to nurture her quiet side, depicted as a seed. Melinda spends time outside, working in the yard, before falling asleep. She wakes up and cycles around her neighborhood, feeling a sense of freedom and excitement. Melinda hears about Rachel leaving Andy at the prom due to his aggressive behavior. Andy is now furious. Melinda has decided to stop hiding in her closet hideaway. But as she is packing to leave, she is ambushed by Andy. A struggle ensues, with Melinda defying Andy and managing to scare him off with a shard of glass. Her scream is heard by the girl’s lacrosse team, who rush to help. Melinda lingers in the art room, trying to perfect her tree sketch. She is approached by Amber, a senior cheerleader, who expresses support. Melinda feels a surge of popularity despite her traumatic experience. She acknowledges her past and vows to grow stronger. She finally reveals her picture to Mr. Freeman, who gives her an A+ and lends a sympathetic ear to her ordeal.

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