Laurie Halse Anderson has become renowned for dissecting distressing topics in her work so it is not surprising that people are looking for more books like Speak, her 1999 bestseller which explores consent and the aftermath of sexual assault.
After calling the police on an end of summer party, Melinda Sordino is branded an outcast at high school, no one understands or cares to listen to her about why she did it. Friendless and alone Melinda retreats inwards, isolating herself further slowly slipping into silence.
The only place she finds solace is in art class and it is through drawing that she faces up to what truly happened at the party, she was raped by another student and realises that what she needs to do is speak up about it. As readers, we are taken on a devastating journey with Melinda through the hypocritical world of high school uncovering the effects of trauma and the ways in which victims can be treated.
If you are looking for more books offering alternative and invaluable perspectives on troubling issues voiced by relatable and believable characters then please explore the other powerful books like Speak listed below.
Books like Speak
Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson
If you loved Speak then I think it is safe to assume you will happily gobble up another book by Laurie Halse Anderson. Wintergirls (the first of two other Anderson titles appearing on this list), is a painfully riveting exploration into body image, eating disorders and how one’s weight can be viewed by others.
Lia and Cassie were best friends united in a deadly competition of who could be the skinniest, lose the most weight and eat the fewest calories. But when Cassie takes the contest too far and succumbs to her demons, Lia is left reeling, battling demons of her own and trying to fathom the loss of her friend.
As her own eating disorder continues to get out of hand, Lia tries to manage her grief and move on but can’t with Cassie’s restless spirit constantly haunting her, raising the question could she have prevented Cassie’s death?
Wintergirls expertly examines the pressures of being a teenage girl, the guilt and grief of losing a friend so young as well as relatable issues of any teenager like resenting your parents! It is an important read for any Anderson fan.
The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Jeffrey Eugenides delves deep into the mysteries of adolescence in his award-winning debut novel The Virgin Suicides. The novel centres around the Lisbon family, Mr and Mrs Lisbon and their five daughters.
Outwardly, the Lisbons appear to be a well-known and traditional Catholic family, but the Lisbon sisters commit suicide one after the other, leaving no clues as to why they did so.
A group of neighborhood boys who were all equally smitten with the sisters tells the story in first-person plural, so we never get to hear from any of the actual victims.
The men are still searching for answers 20 years after the girls’ alleged senseless deaths, showing the impact the killings had on them even after such a long time.
When it comes to suicide and mental health issues, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides shows how appearances can be deceiving and that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors, let alone inside another person’s mind.
For those looking for books like Speak, The Virgin Suicides is a shocking and incredibly affecting novel.
Has this book already been read by you? More books like The Virgin Suicides can be found on our list.
Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
Because of their ability to dissect and deconstruct common misconceptions about troubling issues, books like Speak are powerful.
The end result is a series of thought-provoking and eye-opening books.
Susanna Kaysen’s own experiences in a psychiatric hospital are the basis for our next novel, which is even more powerful because it is based on true events. She wrote Girl, Interrupted, a 1993 memoir about her experiences with mental illness and the institutions that treat it, as well as how patients are treated by those who are supposed to be close to them, such as their family members.
A borderline personality disorder was diagnosed after just a 20-minute consultation with Kaysen, who was then admitted to McLean Hospital for an 18-month stay.
Kaysen describes her time in the hospital as a parallel universe, comparing insanity to an alternate world into which we can all easily lapse. She does this through brief descriptions and personal reflections.
27 years after its original publication, Girl, Interrupted is still relevant and well worth reading today because of its brutal honesty and shocking details about the lives of other patients and the worlds they are trying to escape.
Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
In Rainbow Rowell’s stunning novel, Eleanor and Park, two high school outcasts, find themselves in a passionate relationship.
In addition to Eleanor’s mother and abusive stepfather Richie, she also has four other siblings and her clothes are ill-fitting and patched up by her own hands. She is also obese and is regularly teased and bullied at school.
When it comes to the popular kids, Park fits right in because of his Asian heritage and shorter than average stature, but he has a hard time accepting himself and feels like a disappointment to his father because of his low self-esteem. Strangely, the two form a strong bond, seeing in each other the unique and beautiful qualities that others refuse to see.
Rowell’s novel, written from the perspectives of both Park and Eleanor, explores important themes common to YA fiction and novels about adolescence, such as domestic abuse, bullying, body image and escape, and is both heartbreaking and humorous at times.
I recommend Eleanor and Park for anyone who wants to learn more about the kinds of issues that books like Speak tackle so well.
This heartfelt novel is already a favorite of mine. Eleanor and Park is one of the books on our list!
Girl Meets Boy, by Ali Smith
A lighthearted novel like Speak, but one that still deals with important issues in an innovative way may be the perfect next read for you if you are looking for Girl Meets Boy, by Ali Smith, a retelling of Ovid’s most joyful transformation.
There is a metamorphosis for the millennials in this novella, which is both fresh and funny as it explores themes like love, transformation, politics, and revelation.
Two sisters are left to fend for themselves in the world, and the story is told in alternating narratives from their points of view, Imogen and Anthea. When Imogen isn’t counting calories or dealing with the toxic masculinity of her workplace, she’s trying to make sense of her sister’s newfound sexuality. Her love for Robin has inspired Anthea to speak out about the need for outdated views on gender to be updated.
Despite its briefness, Smith expertly delves into societal views on sexuality, gender, and body image in Girl Meets Boy, leaving the reader with plenty to ponder after finishing the book.
Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Continuing her exploration of what it means to be a man in today’s society, Laurie Halse Anderson’s next book, Twisted, offers yet another unique perspective. On school property, Tyler Miller was caught writing obscene remarks about the school’s principal. The former outcast has since become a high school sensation.
All of this attention from Bethany (Tyler’s secret crush) and her brother (Tyler’s biggest enemy) sets off a chain of events that unfortunately sees Tyler unwittingly at the center of a teenage sex scandal, which is a terrible outcome for Tyler.
Andersen has created yet another relatable character, one with a funny, thoughtful voice that expertly portrays the moral dilemma of other adolescents, as well as the unjust actions and conclusions of those same adolescents.
In Twisted, Anderson tackles difficult topics like alcohol, sex, grades, popularity, honesty, and college life head-on. Fans of Speak will enjoy this thought-provoking read.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
Many young people today are carrying a heavy burden, especially those who are minorities who have to contend with racism and prejudice, and this is well-illustrated in Angie Thomas’ novels like Speak and The Hate U Give.
At school, Starr Carter is surrounded by mainly white, privileged students; at home, she lives in a predominantly black, gang-involved neighborhood. A white police officer shoots one of her friends, and her entire world is turned upside down as she attempts to maintain this delicate balance.
Her parents are worried that if she doesn’t speak up, she’ll be singled out for the same systemic racism that her white classmates have been subjected to. To ensure that justice is done and the cycle of hatred is broken, should she speak up for what is right?
At times, The Hate U Give is difficult to read, but it is also a heartbreaking, eye-opening, and educational must-read novel.
Please let me know if you’ve already read this insightful novel. See our list of books that are similar to The Hate U Give!
The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak
Like Speak, this new book explores religion, sexism, rape, abortion, secrets, and the reasons why adults do the things they do in a colorful and sensory way.
In her novel The Bastard of Istanbul, Elif Shafak expertly depicts the importance of discovering who you are as an adolescent as well as a parent’s struggle to protect their children.
It revolves around four sisters from Istanbul: Zehila (Banu), Cevriye (Cevriye), and Feride (Feride). Zehila has an illegitimate daughter Asya, who lives with Zehila’s ex-husband, Mustafa, in Arizona.
After meeting the Kazanci women in Turkey on a secret journey to discover her true identity, Armanoush learns that her family is connected to the 1915 Armenian genocide and deportation.
Some of Shafak’s most memorable female characters, like Melinda Anderson’s character Melinda, are so real and believable because of her remarkable perspective on some difficult issues.
I was completely engrossed until the shocking climax of The Bastard of Istanbul, a poignant look at families and the bonds that bind us.
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, by David Sheff
Parents are forced to reevaluate their parenting skills when they witness one of their children abusing drugs in The Bastard of Istanbul. David Sheff’s harrowing account of his son’s descent into drug addiction, Beautiful Boy, is available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Prior to becoming addicted to meth, Nick Sheff was a bright student, loving sibling and a lovable young boy who was a joy to be around. He was also charming, funny, and charismatic.
It’s heartbreaking to read about how helpless Sheff felt as he recounted the events of his son’s life and tried to piece together if there had been any warning signs along the way. Maybe something he said or did triggered your memory? This haunts him as much as his son’s actions, and the book describes his attempts to cope and understand.
Beautiful Boy is an excellent follow-up to anyone who enjoyed Speak and is looking for another gripping novel in the same vein. It shows the turmoil and guilt that addiction causes in the lives of those around the addict, and that is what makes the book so compelling.
Fortunately, Speak isn’t the only book of its kind. There are a number of books on this list that deal with a wide range of issues faced by young adults, but they are all written from a different angle.
Some of the more banal aspects of adolescence, such as fights between friends and parental resentment, are accurately captured, making the stories all the more impactful because of their authenticity.