However. This time, I have read the book in question. Twice in fact, most recently a few months ago. And so I do feel that I can (and should) say:
Laurie Halse Anderson's novel Speak is not pornography.
It is the farthest thing from pornography, in fact -- a novel which shows the devastating effect that being raped has on an innocent teenaged girl. Not a girl who "went looking for it", but an ordinary girl teetering on the line between childhood and adulthood, who went to her first high school party and ended up way out of her depth. It is a novel about the girl next door. A girl who could be your sister, your niece, your daughter.
The scenes dealing with rape are very carefully written. They are not excessive. They are not graphic. They are most definitely, assuredly, not titillating or gratuitous. They contain just enough information to let the reader figure out what happened -- and that what is taking place is an act of violence, something that devastates and humiliates and destroys, not anything that any sane reader, boy or girl, could find appealing.
I believe Speak has a place in high school classrooms. I wish I had been given the chance to study it in school, instead of a lot of tedious adult novels about people having mid-life crises and reminiscing about the Second World War. Because I think reading Melinda's story would have given me a better understanding of some of my classmates, if I had been aware that some of them had been through similar experiences to Melinda, and how grateful and relieved I should be that I had not. And if I had been tempted to go to parties where alcohol was being served and there was little or no parental supervision, I think reading Speak would have done a great deal to make me very cautious about doing so, or put me off the idea altogether.
I am not defending Speak because I believe children and teens should be allowed to read anything and everything regardless of content. I am not defending Speak because I think parents have no right to be concerned about the books their children are reading in school. I am defending Speak because I believe the accusations being made against it are uninformed and ridiculous. In fact, I believe that if the Concerned Parent in question is really so determined to make sure that children in his district never encounter any material dealing with illicit sexuality or sexual violence, then he would do well to go to his Bible and rip out the stories of Lot and his daughters, Judah and Tamar, and of Dinah in Genesis; the horrific tale in Judges of the Levite and his concubine; and about a chapter and a half of Ezekiel, among other things.
But those stories do belong in the Bible, because they are written in such a way as to shock and dismay us that such things could happen, not to thrill us and make us want to do likewise. They serve as warnings and laments about the state of the sinful human heart, and what terrible things can happen when people ignore or openly reject God's laws and the stirrings of their own conscience. Many Christian parents prefer not to draw their children's attention to those particular parts of the Bible when they are young, but I know of none who take the Bible away from their children or forbid them from reading it on the off chance that they might find those shocking passages on their own. Even though the chapters in Ezekiel are far more explicit (and sensual) than anything contained in a book like Speak.
I am a conservative evangelical Christian, and I take my faith seriously. I do choose to be selective about what I read, what I allow my children to read, and what I recommend to others. But I also choose to be informed about what a book really contains, and in what context, and with what intent and overall effect on the reader, before I decide whether it is inappropriate or not. And I believe that Speak contains nothing that is inappropriate for its intended teenage audience. I do not believe that it portrays evil as good, or makes immoral behavior enticing.
Speak is not pornography, any more than the Bible is pornography. I believe that individual teens and families who are concerned about Speak's subject matter should be free to choose a different book to study if they wish, but I do not believe that taking Speak out of the hands of all students is a wise or God-honoring choice.