Laurie Halse Anderson Won’t Be Silent

The author of Shout discusses family trauma, rape culture, and racism.

Whatever happened to Melinda? Since its publication 20 years ago, fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak have wondered about the confused, angry teenager left reeling after being raped at a party. The author’s memoir, Shout (Viking, Mar. 2019; Gr 8 Up), sheds light on what came next—not for Melinda, but for Anderson, who drew from her own adolescence when writing Speak

Photo of Laurie Halse Anderson
Photo by Randy Fontanilla

Like Melinda, Anderson was raped as a young teenager, but whereas Melinda coped by withdrawing from the world, Anderson turned to drugs and alcohol to combat the ensuing depression. “I thought I was doing great,” Anderson says. “I knew I wasn’t happy, but as long as I stayed high in ninth grade, everything was fine.”

It wasn’t until years later that she realized that her younger self had been drowning. “Shout for me has been a long time coming,” she says. “But it needed to be a long time coming…to have a better perspective on my upbringing, my family.”

Many of her protagonists, such as Melinda or Wintergirls’ Lia, grow frustrated at their parents’ inability to relate to their pain. Anderson, however, sees her family with a mixture of love, sadness, and understanding. She writes candidly about her father’s post-traumatic stress disorder, the result of serving in World War II. The trauma made keeping a job difficult, and the burden of holding the family together weighed heavily on Anderson’s mother. And the beating that her father once inflicted on her mother, before Anderson’s birth, left its mark on the family.

“I think that’s why when people get to be in their late teens, or they head off to college, there’s often years there where people are pretty angry with their parents,” she says. And I think it’s because they’re old enough to say, ‘Wow, we had some stuff going on at our house. Why?’ But they’re not quite old enough to be charitable.”

To express these complex emotions, Anderson opted to write Shout in verse. “I think poetry is probably D minor. It’s the key that allows for really intense experiences to be conveyed quickly.” But it also gives readers space to reflect. “When you’re reading poetry, you pause after each poem.”

Anderson deftly balances her desire to voice her truth with her respect for those she writes about. In her introduction, she includes words of advice from her father, who was also a poet: “We must be gentle with the living, but the dead own their truth and are fearless.” Both her parents are dead, but there are people in her memoir who are still alive, including her first husband and her daughters, and it was important that they be comfortable with their portrayal. Though the written word is powerful, she emphasizes, “Relationships come first.”

Anderson’s relationship with her readers is a big part of why she remains so relevant. Over the years, Anderson has listened patiently to survivors of rape and abuse who were inspired by Speak, referring many to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

But she also attempts to reach a different kind of reader: the high school boys who were left mystified by Melinda’s descent into hell. Why, they asked, was her rape so devastating?

Anderson initially responded with disbelief, but as she visited more schools, she realized how common this attitude was—and that she had an opportunity to instill some empathy. “They’re kids,” she says. “They’re kids who can grow up to be damaging adults, but they’re still kids, right? Launching an anger on them doesn’t help anything.”

Instead, Anderson began listening to the boys, understanding their harmful misconceptions about sex and rape. Our culture often sees rapists as strangers lurking in the shadows. But most rapes, she says, “are committed by the guy in your algebra class, or your grandfather, or the friend that you made at college.”

She’s never heard a young man admit to rape, but many have spoken about drunken hookups that they think went too far. “I would love to see some guys who really consider themselves men of courage to own up to what they’ve done. Because they’re everywhere. And they’re probably too afraid to do it, but that’s the next piece of the puzzle.”

Shout book coverAnderson also invites women who deride survivors of rape or harassment to do some soul searching.

“I think women of my generation, we were so inculcated with these patriarchal attitudes and values,” she notes. “But there’s still a lot of women who I think haven’t examined those attitudes, and that’s where we get girls and women slut-shaming each other, blaming victims of sexual violence.”

Just as men must listen when women discuss the trauma of misogyny, Anderson stresses that white people need to listen to people of color when it comes to racism. “When people get called out, our first job is to sit still and to listen.”

Anderson has high hopes for the future. She’d advocate for a national curriculum that teaches students about consent, beginning at the preschool level. And she’d love for people to give Shout to their mothers or grandmothers on Mother’s Day—and to their fathers and grandfathers on Father’s Day. “I think there’s a real need for conversations within families.”

While there’s still a lot of progress to be made when it comes to racism, sexism, and rape culture, she’s heartened by the transformations she’s already seen, especially in the world of children’s and YA literature. She remembers that not long ago, many believed that books with covers featuring people of color would never sell, but young writers such as Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, and Tiffany D. Jackson have proven otherwise.

“As rage-filled as Shout is and as angry a woman as I am generally, I’ve never been this hopeful about change, and it has everything to do with spending a lot of time with high school, college-age students, people younger than 35.” She adds, “The world is only ever changed by young people.”

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Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar ( is Reference and Professional Reading Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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