In an attempt to blend my last post (about education) with my general theme, I have decided to write about the book, “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson. I read this book probably around 2006, after stumbling upon the 2004 movie. Both the book and the movie captured my mind and my heart.
Now, I do realize the movie features Kristen Stewart, and that may be off-putting to people who are anti-Twilight (or just are tired of the media circus involving the cast of that movie series). But, before I lose you to this, let me remind you that this is a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart. She is still sullen and expressionless, but with good reason in this particular story. And since she wasn’t “famous” at the time “Speak” was made, she seems more…genuine.
This book (and movie) features an average teenage girl, Melinda Sordino, about to begin high school. She goes to a party where she doesn’t really know anyone (except her best friend). A cute boy notices her and pays her special attention, and when she allows herself to be alone with him, he takes advantage of the situation…and her. Afterward, she’s in a state of shock and confusion, and needing help, calls 911. The police show up to find a bunch of underage teens drinking alcohol (obviously problematic). When the teens find out who called the police, they instantly shun her without ever finding out the reason she made the call. The plot continues with Melinda beginning high school with everyone (including her now ex-best friend) hating her. While reading/viewing, I couldn’t help but place myself in her situation and feel the pain of isolation, misunderstanding, and shame. It’s heart-wrenching. Her saving grace comes in the form of art class. The teacher is an oh-so-typical art teacher, (played by Steve Zahn) who encourages her to think about life and the world in a new and original way.
After picking the word “tree” from the globe (as shown above), she is asked to draw it on the board. She draws a simple tree, and the teacher tells her that that is a good start. It is this challenge that sets her on a path to self-discovery through art. Her art becomes her release, her focus, and ultimately, her voice.
It’s an inspiring story, and one that I in particular find meaningful, due to the personal connections I can draw. I admire the teacher who encourages Melinda to change her perspective, to challenge herself, and to grow. I have had similar “teachers” in my own life (though not all those who have taught me life lessons have been educators in the traditional sense). These people often do not realize they are throwing a life preserver to a person who is on the verge of drowning. Also, I can relate to the expressive nature of art, and how it can be a source of consolation and healing. I love art. I love to make art, and I love to view art. Art is a fascinating concept to me, really. I’m not a student of art, and I’m certainly not blessed with any particular artistic gifts. But, to me, that doesn’t matter when creating art for art’s sake. My works will never be in a gallery or admired by many (or even few…ha). But they matter to me. They’re a way for me to communicate myself without the going through the trouble of selecting the appropriate words. I pour my feelings onto paper, canvas, even coloring books, and feel a great sense of relief. And, when I find myself feeling things that I am unable to vocalize – unable to speak – I find that, like Melinda, art gives me a voice.