The book's taboo-shattering discussion of sexual assault continues to resonate nearly 20 years later
In 1999, Laurie Halse Anderson published her novel Speak, a groundbreaking exploration of sexual assault and its aftermath. From stable book sales to its presence in high school curriculums, its endurance is a testament to the power of the novel, as well as an unsettling reminder of how little things have changed since its initial release.
Yet over the past few months, the conversation on sexual misconduct has accelerated at a rapid pace, as allegations against major public figures such as Harvey Weinstein and Russell Simmons have forced a collective reckoning with the sexism, misogyny, and gendered power imbalances that have long pervaded American life.
It’s timely, then that Speak is re-entering the conversation in a major way. Anderson has teamed with comics artist Emily Carroll (Through the Woods) to reproduce the book as a graphic novel, available for purchase Feb. 6. (Pre-order it here.) The new format illuminates the original text’s discussions of trauma, violence, and recovery in beautifully surprising ways, while still not shying away from the harshness of it.
Anderson spoke with EW about Speak’s enduring legacy, her collaboration with Carroll, and what she’s taken away from speaking with kids about these subjects for more than a decade. Read on below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the idea to re-release Speak as a graphic novel come together?
LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON: When the paperback rights to Speak reverted to Macmillan in 2011, I met with the good people there to chat about two projects that were close to my heart: partnering with RAINN to support sexual violence survivors, and creating a graphic novel version of the book. The Macmillan team was very supportive and made both dreams come to life!
How did Emily Carroll get involved? How did you two collaborate?
Emily was at the top of my wishlist of artists. Her technical skills are superb, and her ability to create tension is masterful. I am very grateful that she was able to make the time for the project. I wrote the script for the graphic novel in 2015, and Emily got to work. Our collaboration was coordination with our editor and art director. I finally got to meet Emily a few months ago — it was like meeting an old friend, in a strange way.
The new cover is gorgeous.
There was never any thought of replicating the original cover. The graphic novel stands on its own feet as a piece of art, therefore it deserved its own cover. It took my breath away.
What does the graphic novel format bring out in the story, thematically, that couldn’t be done in a standard novel?
It gives the readers more perspective on intensity of the emotion that Melinda is dealing with. The fear, the sorrow, the rage, and the triumph are visceral. The addition of the art turns a haunting melody into a resonating chord.
The book has run into censorship for its more explicit content. How was that considered in the graphic adaptation?
It wasn’t. Rape is a crime. This book shows the attack, its devastating consequences, and the strength of the survivor as she reclaims her voice and her strength. To soften any of that would have been disrespectful to everyone who has had to endure it.
Speak has resonated deeply and remains as relevant as ever — why do you think it’s lasted in a way so few books have?
Because millions of survivors of sexual violence are still trying to be heard.
What are your thoughts on conversations around sexual misconduct and assault finally reaching the culture so sharply, after so long?
I try not to focus on my rage that it has taken so long to get to this place. The point is that we are finally here, that the doors are beginning to open for meaningful discussion and change. We must keep the pressure on. We must make sure that this is a truly intersectional movement, that women of color and transgender people and male survivors are all heard and supported too.
Over decades of talking to teenagers about this book and the issues it raises, what have you learned? What have you come away with?
The full answer to that question requires another book! But the shorthand version is this: Until parents get over their discomfort at talking to their children about consent and sexuality — a lot — we will continue to reap generations of people scarred by sexual violence and silence. It’s on us.