9 Powerful Books Like Speak


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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.

9 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.

The Lisbon’s are a renowned and conservative Catholic family appearing relatively normal to outsiders yet all five Lisbon sisters take their own lives in a string of suicides leaving behind no rhyme or reason as to why.

We don’t hear anything substantial from the actual victims as the novel is narrated using the first-person plural by a group of anonymous teenage boys from the neighbourhood who were all equally infatuated with the sisters.

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We see the effects the girls apparently senseless killings had on them even 20 years after their deaths, the men well into middle age are still trying to ascertain what happened and why.

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Eugenides intuitively explores the many facets of suicide and mental health, highlighting how appearances can be deceiving and that no one truly knows what goes on behind closed doors let alone inside someone else’s head.

The Virgin Suicides is a shocking and incredibly affecting novel for those looking for books similar to Speak.

Have you already read this novel? Check out our list of more books like The Virgin Suicides.

Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen

What makes books like Speak so powerful is their ability to dissect common misconceptions around troubling issues and flip the narrative providing an alternate perspective.

The result; truly eye-opening and thought-provoking reads.

What makes our next novel even more powerful is the fact it is based on true events; Susanna Kaysen’s own experiences inside a psychiatric hospital. Her 1993 memoir Girl, Interrupted provides insight into mental illness, the institutions providing treatment and the ways in which patients are treated by others including those supposedly close like their families.

Following a mere 20-minute consultation, Kaysen was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and was admitted to the McLean Hospital for what was meant to be a few weeks but turned into an 18-month stay.

Through short descriptions and personal reflections, Kaysen describes her time at the hospital like a parallel universe comparing insanity to an alternate world which we can all slip in and out of easily.

Brutally honest, shocking in detail about the lives of some of the other patients and the worlds they are trying to escape from, 27 years after its original publication Girl, Interrupted is still relevant and totally worth a read today.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell’s astonishing novel centres around two high school misfits, Eleanor and Park.

Eleanor lives with her mother, abusive stepfather Richie and her four siblings, her clothes don’t fit properly and are embellished with coloured patches sewn on by herself to conceal holes, she is overweight and constantly taunted and bullied by other students.

Park, on the other hand, gets on well with the popular kids but it is his own self-image he struggles with, his Asian heritage and shorter-than-average stature, and believes he is a disappointment to his father. The two strangely form a strong bond, seeing in each other the unique and beautiful qualities that others refuse to see.

Written as a dual narrative from both Park and Eleanor’s perspectives, Rowell’s novel is heartbreaking at times while amusing at others, exploring important themes common in YA fiction and novels about adolescence such as domestic abuse, bullying, body image and escape.

Eleanor and Park is a great book for anyone wishing to read more about troubling young adult dilemmas that books similar to Speak dissect so well.

Already a fan of this poignant novel? Check out our list of books like Eleanor and Park!

Girl Meets Boy, by Ali Smith

If you are looking for a slightly more light-hearted novel like Speak but one that still tackles pertinent issues in a revolutionary way, then Ali Smith’s retelling of Ovid’s most joyful metamorphosis, Girl Meets Boy, may just be the perfect next read for you.

Fresh and funny, the novella is about love and transformations, politics and revelations, and about girls meeting and falling in love with girls and girls meeting and falling in love with boys — a metamorphosis for the millennial!

Told via alternating narratives from the perspective of Imogen and Anthea, two sisters left alone to navigate the world. Imogen is struggling to come to terms with her sister’s newfound sexuality while counting calories and navigating the toxic masculinity of her workplace. Whereas dreamer Anthea has fallen in love with Robin, a girl who is like a boy, who inspires her to vocalise the need for outdated views on gender to change.

Though short in length Girl Meets Boy sure does pack a punch leaving plenty to ponder once you have finished reading as Smith expertly delves into societal views on sexuality, gender and body image.

Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Twisted, the next book by Laurie HalseAnderson offers another exceptional perspective on a controversial subject, what it means to be a man today. Former outcast Tyler Miller is shot to high school stardom after getting caught graffitiing lewd remarks about the principal on school property.

This rise in popularity catches the eye of the popular and pretty Bethany (Tyler’s secret crush) but also her brother (Tyler’s biggest enemy), all this interest sets off a string of events which unfortunately sees Tyler unwittingly at the centre of a teenage sex scandal.

In this superb narrative, Anderson has penned another relatable character with a funny, thoughtful voice expertly portraying the moral dilemmas and unjust actions and conclusions of other adolescents.

Twisted is a thought-provoking read perfect for anyone who liked Speak and enjoys the way Anderson tackles tough issues like alcohol, sex, grades, popularity, honesty, parents and college head on.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

The youth of today carry a lot on their shoulders, even more so if they are a minority contending with racism and prejudice and Angie Thomas expertly portrays this in her novel like Speak, The Hate U Give.

Starr Carter lives in two worlds, her world at school of mainly white privileged students and her world at home in a black, gang led neighbourhood. She does a good job balancing these worlds that is until she witnesses her friend get shot at the hands of a white policeman which sends her whole life into turmoil.

Should she keep quiet to appease her white school friends or for her parents who fear she will become a target of the same systemic racism? Or should she speak up for what is right to make sure justice is done and end the cycle of hate for good?

Inspired by true events, The Hate U Give is uncomfortable to endure at times a heartbreaking eye-opening must-read novel offering an education on many levels.

Have you already read this thought-provoking novel? Check out our list of books like The Hate U Give!

The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak

This next book like Speak offers a colourful and sensory journey through Turkish and Armenian history, and explores religion, sexism, rape, abortion, secrets and also provides insight into why adults do the things they do.

Elif Shafak expertly depicts the importance of finding out who you are as an adolescent but also a parent’s struggle to protect their children in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul

Centring around the Kazanci family, sisters Zehila, Banu, Cevriye and Feride who live in Istanbul with Zehila’s illegitimate daughter Asya and across continents to Arizona where their estranged brother Mustafa lives with his wife and stepdaughter, part Armenian Armanoush.

When Armanoush makes a secret journey to Turkey in search of her identity, she meets the Kazanci women and slowly a secret is revealed which links both families to the violent Armenian deportations and massacres in 1915. 

Shafak provides a remarkable perspective on some troubling themes and has created so many unforgettable female characters believable and absorbing in their discourse which are reminiscent of Anderson’s Melinda.

The Bastard of Istanbul is a poignant delve into families and what connects us, it is an unexpected story which kept me hooked until the surprising end.

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, by David Sheff

From one parent’s protection of a secret and in turn their child in The Bastard of Istanbul, to another questioning their parenting abilities when one of their children turns to drugs. Beautiful Boy is David Sheff’s haunting recount of his son’s downhill slide into addiction.

At one time Nick Sheff was a promising student, a loving sibling, a joyful, charming and funny young boy that was before he became addicted to meth which turned him into a liar, a thief, trembling, paranoid and living on the streets.

Feeling utterly helpless Sheff’s heartbreaking account questions everything tracing back through events to try and determine if there were any warning signs, was his son’s downfall due to his decisions on how to parent? Perhaps something he had said or done? Haunted as much by this as he is by his son’s actions, the book describes his attempts to cope and try and understand.

There are many novels which portray addiction and coming through the other side but rarely do you see the turmoil and guilt this throws at loved ones and it is this perspective which makes Beautiful Boy a great next read for anyone wanting another powerful book like Speak.

Fortunately, there are a lot of books out there like Speak. The books on this list offer varied portrayals and accounts of problems young adults face but through differing perspectives.

They are eye-opening, hard to read at times and incredibly powerful and important, they even nail some of the more trivial aspects of adolescence like friends falling out, parental resentment and the things teenagers say which makes them all the more powerful in their realness.

Are you looking for more books like Speak? Have any recommendations that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!

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Claire Hool

Claire is a writer for Books Like This One, a website helping you find more books to read! She loves reading classics, general fiction and non-fiction books.

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