Why Is Speak a Banned Book

Why Is Speak a Banned Book?


Speak, a young adult novel written by Laurie Halse Anderson, has gained both critical acclaim and controversy since its publication in 1999. The book tells the powerful story of Melinda Sordino, a high school freshman who becomes an outcast after calling the police at a summer party. Through her art class, Melinda discovers her voice and begins to heal from the trauma she experienced. Despite its positive reception and numerous awards, Speak has faced challenges and has been banned in certain schools and districts across the United States. This article will explore the reasons behind the banning of Speak and provide an understanding of the controversy surrounding it.

1. Sensitive Themes:

Speak addresses sensitive and often difficult topics, such as rape, trauma, and teenage depression. Some critics argue that these themes are too mature and inappropriate for the targeted young adult audience. Concerns have been raised that the book’s explicit content could potentially be disturbing or traumatizing for young readers. However, many defenders of the novel assert that it provides a crucial opportunity for teenagers to engage with and understand these challenging subjects.

2. Sexual Content:

One of the primary reasons Speak has been banned is due to its explicit portrayal of sexual assault. Some argue that the book’s depiction of rape is too graphic and could be triggering to survivors. Critics contend that exposing young readers to such explicit content is unnecessary and may encourage unhealthy curiosity or behavior. However, proponents argue that Speak handles the topic with sensitivity and provides a platform for discussion, offering support to victims and promoting empathy among readers.

3. Offensive Language:

Speak includes occasional profanity and vulgar language, which has also contributed to its banning in certain educational settings. Opponents claim that exposing young readers to such language is inappropriate and goes against the values and expectations of a school environment. However, advocates argue that the realistic portrayal of teenage life necessitates the inclusion of such language, and it can be an avenue to connect with and engage young readers.

4. Challenging Authority:

Another reason Speak has faced censorship is due to its portrayal of challenging authority figures within the school system. The book highlights the failure of adults to acknowledge and address the trauma experienced by the protagonist, Melinda. Some argue that this portrayal undermines the authority of teachers and school administrators, potentially influencing young readers to question authority figures in their own lives. However, supporters contend that the novel encourages critical thinking and a healthy skepticism towards authority, promoting autonomy and self-advocacy.

5. Religious Objections:

Speak has also faced challenges from religious groups who argue that the book’s content conflicts with their beliefs or promotes immoral behavior. These objections often stem from the book’s inclusion of sexual assault and discussions surrounding teenage sexuality. However, defenders of the novel argue that it provides an opportunity for young readers to understand and empathize with the experiences of others, fostering inclusivity and compassion.


Q: Is Speak appropriate for young readers?
A: Speak is intended for young adult readers, typically ages 13 and up. However, due to its sensitive content, parents and educators should consider the maturity and emotional readiness of individual readers before introducing them to the book.

Q: Does reading Speak glorify sexual assault?
A: No, Speak does not glorify sexual assault. Instead, it provides a realistic portrayal of the physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of such an act. The book aims to create awareness, empathy, and understanding of the experiences of survivors.

Q: Can Speak be used as an educational tool?
A: Yes, Speak can be a valuable educational tool. It offers an opportunity to discuss important topics such as consent, trauma, and mental health. The book can foster empathy, encourage open dialogue, and promote a safer environment for young readers.


Speak has faced controversy and challenges due to its sensitive themes, sexual content, offensive language, challenging authority, and religious objections. However, many defenders of the book argue that it provides a crucial platform for discussing important issues such as sexual assault, trauma, and teenage mental health. Speak offers an opportunity for young readers to develop empathy, engage in critical thinking, and promote a culture of support and understanding. While it may not be suitable for all readers, the novel has proven to be a powerful and transformative experience for many.

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