Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda is entering Merryweather High School with no friends, no voice, and seemingly no hope. During an end-of-the-summer party, she called the cops. Now, all her old friends won't talk to her and all the people she doesn't know hate her blindly. Since Melinda feels that her parents wouldn't understand, the safest place to be is inside her head. Melinda at first finds a sort of comfort isolated within herself, but it doesn't last. Lurking in the depths of her own mind is a demon. A memory, of the party, which she dare not remember. A thought which she dare not say. Slowly, it eats away at her, threatening to swallow her from within. Slowly suffocating, Melinda is faced with a choice. To speak, or to surrender to the spectre that haunts her thoughts.

What makes Speak such an original work of art is its dynamic mood. At the beginning of the novel, Melinda has clearly been through something major. She also has no friends. This combination has given Melinda a depressed, cynical, and sarcastic view on high school and life in general. What makes this a good thing is the fact that Melinda presents high school in a refreshingly candid, satirical way. My personal favorite example of this is her "The First Ten Lies They Tell You In High School" list. I choose not to give them all away but among them is, "No smoking is allowed on school grounds" and my personal favorite, "These will be the years you look back fondly." This book will make you laugh, unless of course you have no sense of humor at all, which would be a shame since the comedy in this book makes really good points on high school sociology.

Dynamic means characterized by constant change, activity, or progress. So clearly, the book is not just a long satirical attack on high school. There are others moods involved. The opposite mood stems from Melinda's own subconscious. There is conflict within her. She is trying, vainly, to suppress a thought, a memory, in her mind. Doing so arguably drives her insane. She experiences agonizingly acute anxiety, dangerously deep depression, and stifling self-silence. As the book progresses, the emotions Melinda feels become more potent. In the end, the book becomes very very intense so be warned. This book is not a fairy tale filled with rainbows after storms and kisses after poison-apple-based "death."

Bottom line (figuratively, not literally): Speak is powerful. Speak is intense. Speak is witty. Speak is dynamic. Speak is a good book. It is well-rounded and it relates well to teenagers. I advise reading it at least once just for the experience of it. Even if you're not a depressed person, it's good to see the world through Melinda's eyes because there are a lot of people who see the world a similar way.

I give Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson a (relatively) unheard of 5 out of 5 stars.

Acerbically yours,
Gabriel Gethin


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Somewhere in the expansive throes of the future, across a land once known as “North America,” lies a country, Panem. Led by the power-mad and appearance-obsessed Capitol, the country’s twelve districts are forced to offer up two “tributes,” or teenage sacrifices, to partake in the country-wide battle called The Hunger Games. The tributes are chosen by lottery (although one’s name can be entered as many times as one likes, in exchange for a tessera—a year’s worth of grain and oil to help support a poor family). In some countries, participation in the Games is an honor, as one’s district gets showered with money and food for an entire year, and eternal glory is thrust upon the winner. But when Katniss Everdeen, a poor but fiery citizen of District Twelve (the country’s poorest district), finds herself a tribute, her entire world comes crashing down. For you see, the Hunger Games are no ordinary reality show—the twenty-four tributes are placed in an arena in which they must fight to survive not only against the environment, but most of all, their fellow tributes. It is the duty of each tribute to kill as many of each other as they can, for the winner will be the one that is the last to survive as all others are dead.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was a positively riveting book. I felt my eyes were actually glued to the pages, and I finished it in a matter of hours because I found it so difficult to pry myself away. Filled with some astonishing twists and turns, the games themselves were nerve-wracking and heartbreaking, as Katniss would constantly have to remind herself that trusting anyone would result in pain as only one could win, but moreover, a smile and a knife in the back.

The scariest part, perhaps, is that the whole thing reads like a glorified reality show. Sure, it is government run and mandatory to watch—the government likes to remind the citizens just how at-their-mercy they are—but one has to think about how easily we watch reality shows that, by a stretch, were born from the same seed as the Hunger Games.

For Katniss and her fellow tributes, the reality show aspect means that they must be constantly putting on a good face, proving themselves to the audience who have placed bets on their lives, as well as trying to win sponsors who can send them gifts in dire situations.

I was so impressed by this book. It managed to effectively weave a futuristic sci-fi setting with a reality show that is hard to stop turning over in your head, with a commentary on image, as well as a love story. I can’t even weave that sentence to sound ordered or clear, yet Suzanne Collins managed to do so beautifully, creating a book that is a package of sheer suspense and delight.

The first of a trilogy, it has certainly caused a stir among both readers and professionals. Stephenie Meyer and Stephen King both gave rave reviews, and the rights to a movie have been already bought, with the author herself adapting it as a screenplay.

But even more exciting—there is something in which YOU can get involved! The author is hosting a competition in which teens can enter to win an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of the book’s sequel, Catching Fire. The entry consists of writing, in 500 words or less, how you would survive the Hunger Games. For more information, check out their website here.But hurry, because the contest ends May 15th!

Again, I absolutely loved this book, and am under the impression that everybody should read it. Unsurprisingly, I give it a whopping and wonderfully evil (oxymoron? no way-- Evil IS wonderful!) five daggers.

Relieved that OUR kind of evil is delightful rather than murderous,