My character Hannah loves to read as much as I do, so I thought you might be interested in her thoughts on some of her favorite books. Recently, she read the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak is a modern classic about a girl who is isolated, alone, and depressed — and who carries the secret of having been sexually assaulted at the same party that made her a social outcast. Here’s what she has to say about it.
NOTE: Sexual assault and rape are serious issues that anyone, no matter what their age or gender is, might experience in their lifetime. If you are struggling because you have been sexually assaulted, help is available. Please call 800.656.HOPE or visit RAINN.org if you need to talk.
Reading Speak as a Sexual Assault Survivor
by Hannah Rose Kollman (as told to Jack A. Ori)
I thought it might be really hard for me to read this book, and I was right, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it.
I loved this book for the same reasons that it was hard and that I kept having to put it down. At first I kept trying to tell myself that I was very different than Melinda, and that’s sort of true but sort of not. I don’t like to think about what happened to me any more than she did and in fact it’s really hard for me to write this blog and not walk away in the middle of a sentence. So I guess that makes us a lot the same.
Like Melinda, I was raped at a party and ever since it’s been hard for me at school. I guess I’m luckier than her in that my friends haven’t all turned against me. Except…. there’s this huge rift between us now that gets bigger and bigger every day because they can’t understand how it is for me.
Anyway, this is supposed to be about the book, not about my life, right?
This isn’t the kind of book you read to escape, so if you’re like me and you’ve turned to books all your life so you can forget the crap that’s happening all around you, this isn’t the book you want to pick up.
Except… except if you’re dealing with what I’m dealing with and you need a friend, maybe this book is perfect for you.
Speak is about a girl named Melinda who tries her best not to talk at all, to anyone, about anything. It’s not that she doesn’t want to talk. It’s that she can’t.
Melinda went to a party with her friends where some seriously bad things happened. If you read the book you’ll find out exactly what because eventually she has to face what happened to her. I don’t want to go into details. If she was a real person it would be her story to tell, not mine, and that’s sort of the point of reading the book anyway.
She’s younger than me — she’s only 14 and starting high school, which feels like it was forever ago for me cause I’m a junior now and until what happened to me happened all I thought about was going to college. Usually I don’t like to read books about kids younger than me, but this one was different.
It made me feel less alone even though I felt like I’m a totally different person from Melinda and if this was real life she wouldn’t want to be friends with me.
See, there’s a big subplot about Melinda trying to find new friends because her old friends think she called the cops to break up their stupid party and they won’t have anything to do with her and neither will most of the rest of the school. Everyone in her school is split up into different groups. One of the groups is a group of snobby girls who insist you dress a certain way and do tutoring and community service and stuff like that.
Melinda hates that group because she thinks they’re phony. And I get it, because I didn’t think my friends cared about superficial stuff like that but lately I’m seeing them differently.
Anyway, when I read that part, for a minute I felt even more alone. Melinda looks down on girls like me. She doesn’t get why people would pay attention in class or join clubs after school or do community service. If this were real life she’d probably be one of those people who call me “Saint Hannah” to be mean and think I have no life cause I take school and life seriously.
Melinda went to that party with all her friends and now they hate her for breaking it up after what happened to her. I went to my party to try to keep an eye on the one friend who insisted on going while my other best friend wasted a ton of breath telling me it was a bad idea.
Now a lot of people call me Slut Hannah instead of Saint Hannah and they say that I must have been hiding a dark side and that I’m secretly a party animal that has lots of sex all the time because I went to the kind of party nobody expects girls like me to go to, and sometimes I think my friends secretly think it too.
Sometimes I think it’s my fault because I went to the party and that’s why I loved this book.
I felt like the only thing I have in common with Melinda is that I went to a wild party and I was raped there. But Melinda felt the same sorts of things I felt and that was worth more than anything, because I feel like no one in my whole school understands how it feels to be me right now.
My friends don’t understand why I hate going to the front of the classroom and feeling like all the boys’ eyes are on my butt as if that’s all that matters and they’re all thinking about what they’d like to do to me or how there’s not a baggy enough sweater in the world to hide my chest so that people don’t stare at that when I pass them in the hall.
They don’t understand what it’s like to want to be visible and invisible at the same time, to want to be someone else who’s not scared of anything and definitely not afraid to speak up and at the same time want to hide and not attract any attention because attention means you might get hurt again.
And ultimately, that is what Speak is about. The decision to speak or stay silent, the decision to hide or stay out in the open. Melinda goes from wanting to hide so badly that she refuses to do an oral report for her history teacher (who’s almost as awful as my science teacher is) to admitting what happened to her and confronting her rapist. I don’t want to talk about how it ends up but I will say it was POWERFUL.
One thing I wish was in the book that wasn’t was the way people react after they know what’s happened to you. I mean, good things came out of it for her and I guess (hope) they will for me too once I finally overcome the part of me that wants to hide in a corner of my room and never come out again. But there are people who don’t understand too, aren’t there? I mean, someone put this crude drawing on my locker because of the rumors about me being a slut so it was hard for me to believe that people would be all that supportive once Melinda spoke up.
Then again it would ruin the point of the book if she spoke up and all she got was more sh*t, wouldn’t it?
The other thing I was curious about was how her parents reacted once they learned the truth. Throughout the book, Melinda gets in trouble for bad grades and skipping school and her parents are constantly telling her they want her to cut it out and do better and that she’s not reaching her potential. So I want to know… what did they say when they learned she was acting out because she’d been raped? Did they ever find out? Did anyone tell them? And if they did, did they feel bad about being so hard on her or wonder at all why she didn’t tell them in the first place?
I wanted to know because I know how my mom and step-dad have reacted. If I’d had my choice, I’d have told Eric but not my mom. Eric is calm and steady and my mom… well, she’s my mom. She overreacts to everything and she made a big drama out of how she couldn’t believe that I was at that kind of party and accused me of drinking and doing drugs on purpose, like that even mattered after what happened to me.
That’s why my favorite scene in the book was the one when Melinda was imagining being on those talk shows that used to be on in the afternoon (it’s an old book by now, so I guess Melinda would be 33 now if book characters aged the same way real life people do 😮 ). She imagined Oprah telling her that what happened WAS rape and that it didn’t matter how much she had to drink.
That made me feel better about going to the party where it happened to me. I mean, I know that I didn’t ask to be raped any more than Melinda did but I keep thinking that all I had to do was listen to my friends and not go to that party and I’d have been fine.
That’s not true, just because I went doesn’t mean anyone had a right to do to me what some boy did.
I don’t even know his name and I don’t remember the rape, which my friends say is a blessing because apparently they think knowing what was done to me would be even worse. But I woke up the next day with no memory of what had happened to me. I was sore and sick and my life’s been turned upside down and not even knowing exactly what happened or who did this to me makes it even worse.
Anyway, just like Melinda wasn’t responsible for what happened to her just because she’d gone to a party and got drunk, I’m not responsible just because I went to a party, period.
I hope I can remember that next time I’m at school and some boy calls me a slut.
I hope I can find the courage to talk about what happened to me like Melinda eventually did.
About Hannah Rose Kollman
Hannah Rose Kollman is the protagonist of Jack A. Ori’s Reinventing Hannah. She is a junior at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in the fictional town of Cedarwood, New York, where she is struggling to stay focused and on a college track yet be who she wants to be after surviving sexual assault.