Speak at 15: Laurie Halse Anderson Talks Teens, Resilience Literature, and Censorship

indexWith Laurie Halse Anderson’s frequently-challenged YA novel Speak reaching its 15th anniversary this year, the author is marking the occasion with a campaign called #Speak4RAINN15 which aims to raise $30,000 for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Recently she also sat down for an interview with Book Riot’s Kelly Jensen to talk about censorship, Speak’s impact on readers and YA publishing, and where she sees the field heading in the future.

Anderson writes what she has come to call “resilience literature.” In addition to Speak which deals with sexual assault and its aftermath, her books have confronted tough issues like eating disorders (Wintergirls), bullying (Twisted), and having a parent with PTSD (The Impossible Knife of Memory). But only Speak has attracted multiple challenges from parents and others who label the book “child porn” and want it removed from school libraries or classrooms. Anderson, having encountered countless real teens who actually experienced sexual assault and later found solace and strength in Speak, has become a vocal and tireless advocate on their behalf–and by extension, on behalf of the book. Here’s what she said when Jensen asked about her reaction to the various ban attempts over the years:

It makes my blood boil.

I worry about the teachers and librarians who are [in] danger of losing their jobs and I worry about the students being denied access to a good book that has saved lives. I’m baffled by people my age (and younger!) who are so terrified at their inability to talk about rape, a crime that affects 1 in six women and 1 in 33 men, that they would rather ban the book than tell their kids the truth and prepare them for the harsh realities of the world.

Book banners make me fight harder.

As Anderson makes clear, the impact of censorship is far from abstract, perhaps particularly where teen readers are concerned. Everyone deals with trauma differently, but for many teens coping comes in the form of books that help them work through their issues–or even just begin to talk about them, as in Speak. Adults who want books that deal with difficult topics removed from schools and libraries don’t seem to understand (or care?) that a particular book could make a major difference in a particular teen’s life–but only if it’s available when she or he needs it most. Anderson outlines the value of books in helping teens to build strength and confidence:

Resilience is the quality that I hope all teenagers can develop so that they are ready when the world comes at them. Literature is a fantastic way to learn about the kinds of hardships you may have to deal with; watching characters grow and change is a great way to strengthen yourself for your own challenges.

In the Book Riot interview, Anderson also discusses her excitement about the growing diversity in YA literature, and recommends some favorite books and authors both new and old. Check it out here!

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.