For long-time readers of Laurie Halse Anderson’s novels, particularly SPEAK, this new book, SHOUT – a memoir in verse, will give insight and depth to both Anderson’s life, including traumatic events that have informed her fiction, and the aftermath of writing books that hold truths and a wrought release for so many readers. For those as yet unacquainted with Anderson’s work, the biographical poems will still be interesting and moving; the themes and detailed expression are highly relatable and accessible.
In Anderson’s brief introduction, she references advice her father gave her for writing about other people’s lives: “we must be gentle with the living, but the dead own their truth and are fearless.” Following this guideline, the poems of the first section are at times painfully honest about her parents and the sometimes chaotic and violent home in which Anderson grew up. Alcoholism, PTSD, domestic violence, neglect all factor in. In the wider world, Anderson unhaltingly presents us with scenes that may prick at memories long dulled: groups of boys honing in on younger girls at a pool, childhood accidents involving bikes and broken bones, getting lost coming home from school on the first day. And the real life version of the pre-high school rape and the trauma-filled school year that followed that was fictionalized in 1999’s SPEAK and more recently as a graphic novel.
But the full power in Part One isn’t in the trauma; it’s in the slow and suffering healing. A year abroad in Denmark, working in the cold and dark on a dairy farm to pay for college, reporting for a newspaper on another’s woman’s rape, and listening to the advice of “Auntie Laurie” who told her to follow nightmares, not dreams, in order to slay them. It’s a solid lead in to Part Two, which focuses on the responses to the publication and success of SPEAK.
Censorship in classrooms, libraries, towns, an outpouring of thanks intertwined with a “tsunami” of teens sharing their own experiences with sexual assault, rescinded invitations to speak at schools, society’s denial that rape happens and happens and happens, unexpected (but not surprising) moments of confession by manly men who have lived with their trauma for too, too long all have a place in the second section of SHOUT. Angry, indignant poems take their place beside stridently humorous poems and gently forgiving of self poems. All the while a storyline takes shape of what the years following the publication of Anderson’s first novel was like. It is powerful and exhausting, hopeful and cathartic.
The final section of poems come back to Anderson’s family and what life is like after-healing, if healing ever really has an “after.” These poems read as more relaxed, less urgent, even when the topic is deeply personal. The histories and deaths of her mother and father, Anderson’s sense of identity, and a reassuring sense of passing on the torch, as in “reminder,” is at once stimulating and comforting. Of course, being Laurie Halse Anderson, the end of SHOUT includes resources for Sexual Assault and Mental Health.
This memoir in verse is recommended for teens and up, and it’s a necessary and topical book to include in any classroom and library. Highly recommended.