Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Date Read: July 11, 2019
Laurie Halse Anderson is well-versed in writing compelling novels for Young Adults. Her best-known novel, Speak, became a finalist for the National Book Award and won Anderson honours for its portrayal of a thirteen-year-old girl who becomes mute after a sexual assault.
Shout is an extension to her fiction, a poetic memoir written in free verse about her own life growing up as a teen, including details of her rape and the trauma she faced afterward. As she describes it, “The true story of a survivor who refused to be silenced.”
She writes about many pivotal moments throughout her life including how she came to love to read. This is a portion from the poem entitled, “lovebrarians”:
And so, with extra Leslie help and a chorus
of angels disguised as teachers and librarians
for years unstinting with love and hours
of practice, those ants finally marched
in straight lines for me
shaped words, danced sentences,
for a girl finally learning how to read
I unlocked the treasure chest
and swallowed the key.(Halse Anderson, p.26)
She writes about high school with prickling insight. I particularly liked the metaphor of lockers as “steel soldiers lined against the wall.” It made me recount those long girds running through my own high school. I could hear the metallic slamming and smell the rotten bananas inside. She is more condemning in “gauntlet, thrown” when she writes: “My high school was designed by an incarceration/ specialist to make the herding, the feeding/ and the slaughter proceed as efficiently as possible/ that’s what we thought,/ anyway…” (p.77)
Halse Anderson does not withdraw behind words, she uses them skillfully and without censor. Her voice is unapologetic. You echo in her anger, her frustration, her pain. She says she was “indoctrinated by magazine covers” (29). She tells us that: “the taste of shame smells/ like stubborn vomit in your hair” (32). Her father was “… a shitty driver/ and the booze sure didn’t help.” (127). When working as a court reporter during a rape trial, she watched the victim being re-victimized by the lawyer and then, “I saw myself crawling over the seats, leaping/ throwing punches, busting knuckles, breaking/ a chair over his head, the sweet sound of his teeth/ skittering across the floor/ my pencil snapped” (155).
Twenty years post publishing Speak, Halse Anderson puts up a memoir that rants. Using poetry, every word clamours for our attention. In the age of #metoo, it is an important read. Young Adult readers will resonate with this story, and will, hopefully, find comfort in it– and may be freed of the nightmares to tell their own stories too.