CW: rape, sexual assault, harassment, drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, effects of war and ptsd, depression, gaslighting of survivors, rapists not facing consequences
Like everyone else who has read any literature on sexual assault, I’ve known about this author’s pioneering book Speak but have been scared to read it because I didn’t think I was prepared to handle the content. But when I saw that this book was nominated for the National Book Award this year and it’s also written in verse, I decided to give it a try.
his book is essentially a memoir – the author’s honest and raw exploration of her life experiences through poetry – which made me sad, angry, hopeful and angry all over again. We get to know her family very intimately, a father ravaged by his wartime experiences, a mother who is the strength of the family but also someone who remains silent despite everything and the author herself, a bright young woman who’s trajectory of life changes in an instant when she is raped. The first half of the book is mostly about growing up in her family and the myriad struggles she faced in trying to deal with her trauma. It’s a story of distress and helplessness, but also resilience and hope and I was in awe of the way she took control of her life and decided to make something out of her trauma.
But it’s the second half of the book that really broke me. From the accounts of many school administrators and librarians who refused to let her speak or censored her book, to the numerous youngsters who decided to share their own traumatic experiences with her – it’s a harrowing read showing us the truth that is all around us but which we blind ourselves to, and a realistic picture of how things have hardly changed for the survivors after all these years. I was sobbing and raging while reading many of these poems.
There is a lot to learn from this book. I think the author makes a great case for the perils of censorship, how suppressing content only leads to more ignorance and violence, and survivors are left without any safe spaces to explore their feelings. The author also calls for everyone, especially older victims of trauma to listen to young survivors who are brave enough to tell the truth instead of gaslighting them – insisting that just because they were silenced during their time doesn’t mean we get to do the same to the ones after us. And ultimately it’s a story of survival and the hope is that anyone who is reading it might find a piece of themselves in it, or maybe a tool to help them.
To conclude, I will just say that this book is a very important read and I implore everyone to pick it up. The content might be hard to read and you might want to shield kids from such harsh material, but it’s the truth of the world around us and all youngsters deserve to know it and maybe even be prepared. I think this is also a must read for all adults, especially parents so that we can all better understand and support any survivors we may know in our lives. Just make sure you are in the right frame of mind when you pick it up and experience the pain and rage and hope. And thank you so much to the author for putting her story out there for all of us to learn from and reflect upon. Let me end with these powerful words from the author herself….
“too many grown-ups tell kids to follow their dreams like that’s going to get them somewhere Auntie Laurie says follow your nightmares instead cuz when you figure out what’s eating you alive you can slay it”