Summer reading speaks to students


Antonio Maffei ’20

This summer, students read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Sean DiNicola ’22, Staff Reporter

When Laurie Halse Anderson wrote Speak in 1999, social media didn’t exist, cell phones didn’t do much more than make calls, and the founder of Snapchat was still in elementary school.

Speak, which was the summer reading assignment, is a semi-autobiographical novel about sexual assault and having the courage to tell one’s story. The main character, Melinda, is attacked by a fellow student at a party and keeps the details of the assault to herself.

She ends up isolating herself from the other students, often in a janitor’s closet at school and then stops speaking altogether. She tells her story at the end of the novel after some major reflection and encouragement from an empathetic art teacher. So, 20 years after its publication, would the story have played out differently if it was set in 2019?

“I think the age of smartphones would have a great impact on the story of Speak,” said Arav Patel ’22.
“Right now, more women are speaking up about their assault stories with the #metoo movement. This movement and how the people received it would have a huge impact on the story of Speak.”

Unlike in past years, Speak was the only choice for all students at Riordan. This decision was for good reason, according to Principal Tim Reardon.

“As you might know, over the past couple of years, we’ve had a few incidences of Riordan boys making comments or acting in ways that show disrespect, insensitivity, or just ignorance toward girls and women,” he said. “I thought this book would help our guys develop a more informed perspective regarding the challenges that girls face in society.”

He added that he felt the Mentor Group system was a great forum for students to talk about the more difficult themes the novel presents.

“Using the One School, One Book format seems like the most efficient way to get everyone talking about this important topic,” he said.

The story was eye-opening for students, overall, and gave them a different perspective on sexual violence. Although this story takes place two decades ago, the message remains important.

Patel said, “The main thing I got out of the book was that you should always speak up about the situation you are going through and always try to and help.”.