MENTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT/ABUSE
SPOILERS FOR ANDERSON'S PREVIOUS NOVEL, SPEAK.
When I was in the eighth grade, a friend of mine was reading a book whose cover I admired very much. I have always been someone who judges books by their cover, I'm sorry to say, but the people in the marketing department work very hard on those designs for a reason. The book cover was mint-green and gray with raised leaves and a pair of glassy eyes staring out from between branches of a skinny, twiggy tree. Below the eyes, there was a nose, but below the nose, the trunk of the tree covered the person's mouth.
The title of the novel - Speak - struck me as odd due to the cover design, and I did some research on it. The story summary on the back of the book intrigued young me; the main character, Melinda, calls the police while intoxicated at a party over the summer, invariably getting everyone else in trouble. When they arrive, she doesn't say anything to them about her reason for calling. Afterwards, she is ostracized from all friend groups and hated by virtually everyone in her high school. The reason she calls the police in her inebriated state is because she is raped at the party by one of the upperclassmen. However, things are mildly hazy because of the beer and the trauma, and like many survivors of sexual assault, she has a hard time coming to terms with what happened to her.
Through this book, Laurie Halse Anderson started something important; she shed light on the experiences of women who experience sexual violence. Often times, it is just too hard to speak. Now, decades later, I was wandering Barnes & Noble as I often do when I came upon a hardcover book with a black jacket upon which bright, orange vines weaved across the title. I was instantly drawn to the cover. When I saw Shout and Anderson's name, I purchased it without even reading the description.
Later upon reading the book jacket, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the intricate gem I'd found. A nonfiction memoir written in verse - a rarity in the book world - that touches on the subject of sexual violence. A book nerd like me is excited by the prospect of a poetic memoir, but a poetic memoir that advocates for change in an important subject matter? Sign me up.
I haven't cracked the spine yet, but I am both looking forward to it and dreading it. I am thrilled that a book like this exists, but I know myself, and I know I will sob heavily while moving through the pages. I will feel empowered and disgusted and cleansed and inspired, perhaps simultaneously. I will confront my own experiences, recall others friends have told me about, remember the alarming number of people I follow that tweeted #MeToo. I will be thankful for this book and all it has the potential to do in a world where the events described in its pages are still happening far too frequently.
And I will understand if you don't read it because you don't have to and because it could do more harm than good depending on the stage you're in of your healing process. I will hope that you come to terms with your past, that you allow yourself to grieve, that you heal and grow and change. I hope that once you learn to speak, when you're ready, you also learn to shout.