Melinda's mom is the hardworking manager of Effert's, a downtown clothing store. She's a practical, busy woman, who struggles to balance home and career. In contrast, Melinda's dad sells insurance, and Melinda thinks Dad's job is too easy and resents what she sees as his freedom.
Melinda thinks that Mom and Dad are unhappily married. We don't know how close Melinda is with her parents before the rape, but it's unlikely they spent hours and hours in deep conversation. Readers are likely to have mixed reactions about Mom and Dad. They are hard to get a fix on because Melinda is so torn about them.
Melinda clearly wants to tell them about the rape. However, because they seem unwilling or unable to see that Melinda really needs help and that something has hurt her, Melinda is less willing to confide. Mom goes as far as to say that Melinda's bad grades, silence, and skipping school are pleas for attention. Well, yes...or we could call them cries for help. Dad almost gets it. He thinks Melinda is under the influence of some bad high school kids or teachers. Yes again, but he's so not stretching his imagination far enough.
Melinda's lip biting, wrist scratching, and silence are all signs probably meant most of all for Mom and Dad. She doesn't know how to ask for help, so gets more and more extreme in the hopes they will do what Mr. Freeman does: ask, not demand, that she talk to them if she wants to.
It's likely that Mom and Dad are just as clueless as Melinda about rape and its aftermath. Melinda exhibits some signs that seem to be common among victims of violent attacks and other trauma. Through Mom and Dad, Speak makes the argument that parents need to be educated too, in hopes that they can respond helpfully if tragedy strikes their child.
Welcome to art class. Turn on your music, break out your favorite snacks, and start creating fabulous art. Get ready to ask some hard questions about yourself and your feelings. And be prepared to work hard for art and truth.
Mr. Freeman, the cool art teacher, is fond of theatrical, heartfelt speeches, like this one from the first day of class:
"Welcome to the only class that will teach you how to survive [...]. Welcome to Art. [...] This is where you can find your soul, if you dare. Where you can touch that part of you you've never dared look at before." (4.3-5)
While other classes do actually prove helpful to Melinda, nothing compares to art class.
Art class lets Melinda explore her emotions in a way she finds satisfying and rewarding, if frustrating. Perhaps more importantly, Mr. Freeman a) treats students like intelligent beings, and b) tries to show them the reality of his life, beyond his role as teacher. His rants about the school board might bore Melinda, but she sees Mr. Freeman speaking the truth as he sees it directly to the students, even when doing so could get him into trouble. Whether this is good, bad, or something in between is up for debate.
What's not up for debate is that Mr. Freeman does a few things for Melinda that nobody else is willing or able to do. For starters, he shows her he can relate to her suffering. Take the turkey bone exhibit Melinda creates. Mr. Freeman analyzes it like this:
"I see a girl in the remains of a holiday gone bad, with her flesh picked off day after day as the carcass dries out." (29.14)
Yeah, so Mr. Freeman gets way dramatic, but this is just what Melinda needs at the moment. Mr. Freeman backs up his praise by showing Melinda something about her work she herself might not be consciously aware of. He tells her the truth as best he can. This also means pushing her to do better when her work falls flat. Melinda's the kind of girl who appreciates such honesty, even when it stings.
Mr. Freeman also offers Melinda his ear. After dropping her off at Effert's, the clothing store her mom manages, he says, "You're a good kid. I think you have a lot to say. I'd like to hear it" (58.17). Why is it Mr. Freeman that Melinda ultimately decides to confide in? We're not sure, but here's our best guess: Because he's the only one who asked her to. Seems there might be a lesson in there somewhere.
Heather is from Ohio and is the new kid in town. She's extremely driven; so driven, in fact, that she wants to join a club for every day of the week. She wants to be part of her new community, but is finding it very difficult to break in to the new social scene. She and Melinda strike up an awkward friendship on the first day of school. In Melinda's section, we talk about how the pressure Melinda is under reveals some positive aspects of her character. In the case of Heather and Melinda's relationship, the pressure brings out the worst in both of them.
Melinda, it seems, is often using Heather because she has nobody else. Her mind, we suspect, is on her old friends, the people she's grown up with. Heather doesn't seem to be using Melinda at first, but she isn't treating Melinda like a real friend either. She doesn't try to find out from Melinda why everybody is mad at her, or why Melinda is having a hard time. At the same time, Melinda never even considers confiding in Heather and just takes her for granted. This increases the distance between them.
Yet, Melinda is willing to try to salvage the friendship while Heather is not. And Heather is downright mean about it too, though it's hard to say whether she knows the impact of her actions. Yeah, we're talking about the way Heather gives Melinda back her friendship necklace on Valentine's Day inside a Valentine's Day card.
It's what Heather does a little later on, though, that puts the icing on her character cake. She comes over to Melinda's house for the specific purpose of conning Melinda into helping her decorate the prom ballroom for the Marthas. The nerve! This action shows that Heather is either really insensitive, or that she deliberately tries to exploit what she sees as Melinda's loneliness and friendlessness. Or does it show something else? You tell us.
Heather's action also reveals something about Melinda. Melinda says "no" to Heather's manipulations (and Heather responds with angry shock). We've watched Melinda struggle to say "no" throughout the book, so this moment marks a big turning point for her.
Heather is probably moving out of Syracuse, but if she stays, can she and Melinda be friends? Why or why not? Does Heather become corrupted by the sick scene at Merryweather High, or has she always been somewhat mean and shallow?
Rachel and Melinda have been best friends since grade school at least. She's important to the story because she's important to Melinda. Before we know Melinda was raped, Melinda thinks, "If there is anyone in this entire galaxy I am dying to tell what happened, It's Rachel" (1.10). Unfortunately, Rachel has totally turned against Melinda. She, like everybody else, seems to believe that Melinda called the cops at the party just to get everybody in trouble.
Like Melinda, Rachel changes a lot throughout the novel. Many of these changes are beyond our reach, because they are beyond Melinda's. Although Rachel is an important character, she doesn't get many lines, and everything we hear about her is from Melinda's point of view. This leaves readers with lots of room to speculate about her motivations and to explore different reasons that might drive Rachel's actions.
Betrayer or Betrayed?
Rachel's willingness to believe the worst of her friend isn't endearing. We know she sees Melinda right after the rape. It would have been obvious that Melinda had been through some kind of attack, right? When Melinda tries unsuccessfully to reconnect with Rachel in the school bathroom, Melinda thinks,
I don't want to be cool. I want to grab her by the neck and shake her and scream at her to stop treating me like dirt. She didn't even bother to find out the truth - what kind of friend is that? (9.10)
Good question. Rachel's quick and easy betrayal of Melinda makes Rachel seem weak and disloyal. When she starts dating Andy Evans, she seems like a bad judge of character to boot.
But there's another way to look at Rachel. Like Melinda, she's just starting high school and she's not sure where she fits in. She's trying to find her identity. She's experimenting with different cultures through her friendships with foreign exchange students. She's just as flattered by attention from a handsome senior as Melinda was when she first met Andy.
In all fairness, if Melinda had told Rachel from the beginning, Rachel probably would have stood by her, or at least believed her. For Rachel, the fact that Melinda doesn't explain why she called the cops on a party that Rachel brought her to might seem like something of a betrayal.
This doesn't excuse Rachel's action. Her silence toward Melinda might show that she doesn't take their friendship seriously, or that she, like Melinda, can't express what she feels in words. We might also keep in mind that like pre-Andy Melinda, she's probably innocent about rape. Maybe it's beyond the scope of her imagination that Melinda was raped at the party. Or maybe she had the suspicion all along, but pushed it away.
In many ways, the truth about Andy, and about Melinda, frees Rachel just as it does Melinda. When Andy can't keep his hands to himself at prom, Rachel almost slaps him. This is after Melinda finally confides in Rachel about the rape. Although Rachel doesn't seem to believe Melinda's accusation, it still warns her and puts her on guard around Andy. This suggests that that Rachel has some clear boundaries about her body and isn't afraid to fight for them.
At the end of the novel, we learn that Rachel tries to reconnect with Melinda after Andy attacks Melinda a second time. Now that Rachel knows the truth, her world can make sense again too. She can understand Melinda's actions, and she can look back on her time with Andy and see all the signs that showed he's not a nice guy. Hopefully, she also learns something about loyalty and friendship.
Melinda is the young star of Speak. Since she's also the narrator, everything we learn about the other characters is filtered through her. Melinda is very perceptive and bright, but her vision is sometimes clouded by her suffering. She's only fourteen-years-old, and she's dealing with one of the worst things that can happen to a person: rape. High school senior Andy Evans rapes Melinda at the end-of-summer party just before Melinda starts 9th grade. She calls the cops to report the rape, but leaves before they show up. The party is busted and everybody thinks Melinda got them in trouble on purpose.
The novel begins on Melinda's first day in high school. Nobody at school will talk to Melinda, including Rachel Bruin, who's been her best friend forever. Worse, just about everyone bullies her. She wants to explain why she called the cops but she can't find the words.
Melinda doesn't stop talking altogether, but says only what seems absolutely necessary. As her secret weighs on her more and more, she talks less and less. Eventually she decides that talking is necessary to protect others from Andy and to find personal relief. Speak follows Melinda through her first year of high school, from the depths of her isolation to the beginnings of her renewal.
Put enough pressure on a character and all the strengths and weakness come tumbling out. Melinda is under extreme pressure. She's living in a nightmare. Her rapist is a guy at her school, and he's stalking her ex-best friend. We know little about what kind of person Melinda was before the rape. We don't know how she viewed her peers, or how other people thought of her. We don't know if she was talkative, or already on the reserved side.
However, we do know that the rape changes Melinda. Teen years are usually a time of constant change, as our bodies, our interests, and our understanding of the world shift. The rape forces change on Melinda through violence. It changes her physically and mentally, setting off a string of transformations - some of which probably wouldn't have happened if she hadn't been raped.
Melinda probably wouldn't have become withdrawn and isolated. She probably wouldn't have started chewing her lips, and scraping her arms with paperclips. She probably wouldn't have so much trouble talking. Yet, these changes are temporary. They don't define her character. She is able to recognize the harm in these actions and change again. What does define her character is the strength it takes for Melinda to fight to repair her life. The pressure of her situation reveals her own strength to her.
Melinda and the Talk Shows
Who better to ask for help on learning to talk than from the professionals? When Melinda gets her daytime talk show on, she finds some answers she needs. Melinda is sick and stays home from school the day after she learns that her ex-best friend, Rachel Bruin, is dating Andy. This is in spite of the fact that Melinda sent Rachel an anonymous note warning her that Andy is dangerous.
While watching talk shows Melinda imagines specific advice that Oprah, Sally Jessy Rafael, and Jerry Springer would give her if she were on their shows. This is an important moment in terms of Melinda's growth, and in the readers' understanding of her experience.
Melinda uses what she's heard on talk shows to make sense of her life and to answer a very specific question: "Was I raped?" (76.3)
Though Melinda described the rape much earlier in the novel, it's not until this moment that we realize that Melinda isn't sure whether she was raped or not. This is because it falls into the category of date rape. Melinda isn't sure if Andy's raped her because a) she was drunk; b) she was attracted to Andy and was dancing with him, and; c) she even fantasized about starting school with him as her boyfriend.
Oprah explains that because Melinda said "no," and because Andy went as far as to put his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet, it was rape. Being drunk has nothing to do with it. Being initially attracted to him has nothing to do with it. Sally tells Melinda it's not her fault, and that Andy needs to answer for his "attack" (76.5) on Melinda. Jerry's contributes to the discussion by telling Melinda to "Speak up" (76.6) about the rape.
This scene emphasizes the way Melinda draws on everything around her to find solutions to her problems. It also gives a nod to talk show hosts who get serious issues before the public eye. And gives you a chance to explore your feeling on talk shows as sources of information about touchy subjects.
Keeping Quiet, Speaking Up
Melinda's reasons for not talking about being raped aren't a hundred percent clear - to us or to Melinda. Her feelings are confused, but she seems to be scared and ashamed, and not even sure if it technically was a rape. She thinks maybe it was her fault.
On the other hand, Melinda's main motivation for finally revealing the secret is clear, and it says a lot about her character. When she sees that Rachel, the friend who betrayed her, is in danger of becoming Andy's next victim, she is compelled to speak. This shows us that Melinda is loyal to their past history, and that she cares about the safety of others.
Melinda Sordino begins her freshman year at Merryweather High School in Syracuse, New York, with a heavy secret weighing on her. Over the summer, she and her friends went to a party and Melinda ended up calling the police, causing her friends and everyone at the party to socially reject her. Melinda's only friend is Heather, a new student, who tries to get Melinda involved in her schemes to gain popularity.
Melinda, however, is not interested in gaining popularity and spends much of her time in an abandoned janitor's closet at school. She has stolen some late passes, so she uses the closet as a hideout to avoid teachers she dislikes and painful interactions with her former friends. Her only solace at school is art class, where she is working on a year-long project to create various interpretations of a tree. In the school hallways, she occasionally sees IT, a name she has given to senior Andy Evans, and she slowly begins to face what he did to her. Whenever he sees her, he antagonizes her in ways that make her relive her initial experience with him. She grows more despondent and even ditches whole days of school. Her parents and guidance counselor try to get her to open up about her poor academic performance, but Melinda refuses to speak to them. However, over many months of painful silence and self-harm in the form of lip- and nail-biting, Melinda finally admits to herself that Andy Evans raped her at the party last summer.
After facing the fact that she was raped, Melinda begins to recover from the trauma of the event. She is worried about Andy Evans' intentions for her former best friend, Rachel, and finally tells Rachel what happened to her. While Rachel does not believe Melinda, Melinda begins to feel free after speaking up. She takes up new hobbies, like yard work, and gains confidence in her attempts at creating a vibrant tree for art class. She no longer relies on Heather's false friendship and begins to reconnect with her former friend Ivy. As the school year comes to an end, Melinda is forced to confront Andy once again when he corners her in her janitor's closet. She defends herself and gains the respect of the school as many other girls have also suffered Andy's attacks silently. She ends the year by finishing her tree and sharing what has happened to her with her art teacher, Mr. Freeman.