Help Teens Read is adding a consistent new contributor to our ranks. Amy Adam is an exceptional educator, who like many of us who read this blog, believes in the power of independent reading and the importance of the joy of reading. She is also the most knowledgeable and voracious reader of children’s and adolescent literature I know. Amy has agreed to share her one-of-a-kind reviews of new literature with the Help Teens Read audience on a recurring basis. She will not only offer you excellent “book talk” models, but her suggestions and commentary may also help you match that just-right-book to the students who need to gain their first forays into reading for enjoyment. We know how powerful those experiences have been for our own students. Welcome, Amy. My audible account and my bookshelves are ready to add all of your suggestions.

Here is her first installment…

If you’ve been following young adult literature for a while, you likely remember Laurie Halse Anderson’s best-selling hit, Speak, which was published in 1999. It was made into a pretty good movie with actress Kristen Stewart (pre-Bella Swan era) as the main character, her personality perfect for Melinda. Speak followed Melinda through her freshman year of high school after having experienced a sexual assault at a party the summer before. She endures the isolation from her friends after calling the cops at the party as well as having to walk the same halls as IT, her rapist. Melinda has a dark and witty sense of humor that resonates with her teen readers. The first line of this book is nothing short of iconic:

“It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.”

This line foreshadows how FREAKING relatable Melinda is, with her anxiety and fears about starting high school. Her character is so well written and beautifully dynamic as she works through her trauma in both unhealthy (skipping class, avoiding adults, not talking) and healthy (art) ways. LHA makes you feel the honor and privilege of getting to know Melinda throughout the book and bursting with pride when she is finally able to speak.

When the 10th anniversary of Speak happened, LHA published a poem that she composed using the thousands of letters she received from readers about how Speak had impacted them. The poem is heart achingly brilliant and you can read it here:

In 2019, LHA published a companion novel called SHOUT. If I loved Speak, then I had a full emotional awakening reading SHOUT. It’s a searingly beautiful memoir that addresses LHA’s personal experiences with an alcoholic father and distant mother. It also includes reflections and moments of advocacy and support for movements like #metoo and #timesup. It’s written in verse or short poems and continuously takes a little knife to your heart while you scramble to polish, sharpen, and ultimately find a way to sew the pieces back together.

Its hard to pick, but I THINK I can commit to saying that my favorite lines are:

“We should teach our girls that snapping is ok, instead of waiting for someone else to break them.”

“Censorship is the child of fear the father of ignorance and the desperate weapon of fascists everywhere.

“Trying to figure out what you want to do, who you want to be, is messy as hell; the best anyone can hope for is to figure out the next step.”

“I was in a race to see if I would die from the outside in or the inside out.”

In a New York Time’s article titled She Spent 20 Years Teaching Teens About Sexual Assault. Now She’s Sharing Her Own Story by Lucy Feldman, LHA describes writing SHOUT in response to what she was hearing and reading about the #metoo movement. She says,

“This book was written in rage, literally, lines of poetry just started raining in my head… I’m officially at the I don’t give a —- any more age.”

I got to meet LHA at a conference last summer. I would love to tell you that I calmly basked in her presence. Instead, I openly wept while I told her how much her books have impacted me, my friends, and my students. She was just as kind, gracious, smart, and witty as she was in my imagination. She addressed the group (consisting mostly of teachers and librarians) and talked about consent and how she leads discussions about it with teens all over the country. Her consent rules are that it must be verbal, enthusiastic, and ongoing. She also talked openly about her own trauma and the trauma she consistently reads about in fan letters and hears about on school visits. “All of us, we all have broken pieces,” she said. “It’s how we go forth, into healing ourselves and others that really matters.”

We have to learn to Speak. And after we speak, we must SHOUT. For yourselves, for your families, for your friends, for our community, and for all of us as collective humanity…broken pieces and all.

Reread or read Speak. Read SHOUT. Change the world.

Sending love,