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Shout! Laurie Halse Anderson Continues to be the Voice We Need Shouting in the World About Sexual Violence in the Life of Teens

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was first published in the year 1999, twenty years ago this year. At this time, I had been a YA librarian (paraprofessional) for about 7 years (roughly). It was one of the first teen books I had read that realistically and honestly talked right to the heart of teens about an issue that so many of them had been forced to deal with in their lives: sexual violence. By the time they turn 18, 1 in 10 children will be the victims of sexual violence. For more information on sexual violence or for help, please contact RAINN.

“I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears?”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

In the year 2000, Speak was named a Printz Honor Award winning title, the inaugural year of the Printz Award. We talk often in the library community about the need to continually weed our YA collections to keep room for new releases, but Speak is hands down one of those classic titles that it is hard to imagine ever weeding. Not because it’s a classic, and I guess at this point it truly is, but because it is in fact unfortunately all too painfully relevant today, and I fear that it will always be so. Speak is the rare gem of a novel that speaks eloquently and powerfully in ways that relate across decades to a wide variety of readers. And in the era of #MeToo, it is more relevant than ever.

“I wonder how long it would take for anyone to notice if I just stopped talking.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

An Educators Guide to Building Resilience Through YA Literature

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On March 12 of 2019, Laurie Halse Anderson will release her newest book Shout, a moving biography that seeks once again to highlight the very real truths of sexual violence in the life of teens – and in her own life. I was honored to receive an early copy of this book for review, which I read out loud to both my teenage daughter and my husband. This book, written in verse, is a rich, raw and relevant look behind the scenes of the life and work of Anderson, who has dedicated her to life to not only writing high quality YA for teen readers, but to speaking out to educate and advocate for discussions about sexual violence in the life of teens. Anderson challenges us time and again to keep having the uncomfortable discussions that we need to be having with ourselves, our teens and our culture to help put an end to sexual violence.

A Reflection on Teaching Speak in the Classroom

Why did I choose to read this book out loud to my family? The topic of sexual violence is very important to me. I, myself, am a survivor and I wanted us all to read it together and talk about it. I began early in life talking with my two daughters about sexual violence and consent in my attempt to help them stand up for themselves, to create their own healthy boundaries, and to make sure they knew what sexual violence looks like and that they could and should come to their parents for help at any time. I am grateful to have this book as another tool in my arsenal to talk with teens – and my teens in particular – about this important topic. I believe the greatest gift that we can give to the safety and well being of our children is to engage in conversations with them about sexual health, safety and consent. And I believe that we need to begin from the moment that they are born having these conversations in age appropriate ways.

Laurie Halse Anderson Recommends Five Books to Talk About Rape Culture

I had to pause in my reading several times as I read this aloud because I cried – a lot. I cried because Anderson uses the language of poetry perfectly to capture and talk about what it’s like to be a woman in this world, what it’s like to have abusive situations in your life, and what it’s like to navigate and live with the aftermath of sexual violence. The poetry is exquisite, even when it’s hard to read. She said beautifully so many things that I have never had the words to say for myself.

School Library Journal: After #MeToo

Shout is broken up into several parts. The first part speaks specifically of Laurie Halse Anderson’s life as it is truly a biography told in poetic verse. I have never read a biography in verse form before, and I don’t read many biographies at all to be honest, but I was blown away by how powerful of a tool poetry is for a biography. Poetry, it turns out, is the perfect narrative tool for conveying not only moments and insight, but the emotional layers and hidden parts of those moments. What a truly profound approach to biography, and highly effective. I could tattoo snippets of these poems onto my skin as I would want to share them with the world to help us all understand the harm we are doing to one another when we violate each other in these ways.

In other parts, Anderson speaks more specifically about the various stories that the teens she has encountered have shared with her about their own sexual abuse and what the novel Speak means to them. All of it is honest, brave, raw and moving. As someone who has talked to a lot of teens, I recognized all too well these types of stories and, again, felt that the language of poetry was the perfect tool to help readers understand the depth and breadth of pain and emotion that a teen can carry with them for a lifetime after surviving sexual violence. These poems lay souls bare and remind readers that our kids are genuinely hurting. We owe it to them to keep having these uncomfortable conversations and to truly try and change the culture that keeps leaving our youngest and most vulnerable broken and somehow responsible for trying to put themselves back together again. Anderson doesn’t just try and speak to teens or for teens, but she continues to try and amplify their voices and challenges us all to really listen to teens.

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I can not recommend this book highly enough. It is not a comfortable read, and it shouldn’t be because it is dealing with uncomfortable truths about our world; but it is a necessary read, and it is a truly moving one. I am so glad that over the years Anderson not only has found her voice, but that she has chosen to Shout. We need voices like hers shouting, I just hope that we will learn how to listen.

Publisher’s Book Description

A searing poetic memoir and call to action from the bestselling and award-winning author of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson!

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.

This book will be published on March 12, 2019

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In 2014, TLT did a year long series on sexual violence in the life of teens. You can find all of those posts that include statistics, resources, and book discussions here.