Laurie Halse Anderson's debut young adult novel Speak, published in 1999, follows 13-year-old Melinda Sordino through her first year of high school after a traumatic incident renders her speechless and hated by most of her classmates. Unable to share her internal struggle aloud, Melinda begins to isolate herself from others until a teacher shows Melinda how to express her feelings through art. Although several schools banned the novel due to its controversial subject matter, Speak earned several prestigious awards and became a New York Times best seller.

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