Book Article

'Speak': Novel Under Fire

Laurie Halse Anderson’s book has touched off a fierce debate about censorship in schools

Laurie Halse Anderson has dealt with critics of her 1999 young-adult novel Speak before, but the stakes are higher this time around. The book concerns the aftermath of a sexual assault, and last month, Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor at Missouri State, published a screed in a local paper attacking the novel because it contains a brief description of the assault itself. Scroggins demanded that Speak — which had been a finalist for a National Book Award — be removed from the public-school curriculum. While the school board has yet to comply, the story has exploded.

''The response to this has been so far beyond anything I've ever experienced,'' says Anderson. Her publisher, Penguin, went so far as to take out an ad in The New York Times in support of the novel. And Anderson heard from one of her idols, a writer who has some experience herself with controversy. ''Judy Blume tweeted me,'' she says. ''I took a screen shot of it and I think I'm going to frame it.'' Scroggins' op-ed, ironically, came just days before the American Library Association's Banned Books Week.

Anderson says she doesn't plan to petition the Missouri school board now deciding Speak's fate — but she's taking some action nonetheless, sending 20 copies of all three of the books under attack to the local public library. ''I heard from librarians down there that there are so many holds on the books because people want to read them.'' The titles of the other two books? Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer — and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.


Celebrity Author Alert
Susan Boyle, Rick Springfield, and Hoda Kotb have memoirs out Oct. 12 — and we've read all three. Here are some choice bits from each.

The Woman I Was Born to Be Susan Boyle
She reached her limit with the press only after they dissed her cat Pebbles.
''I thought, I'm not going to pay attention to any of this anymore.''

Her personal high point last year?
''Meeting Donny Osmond.''

Her upset stomach sounded ''like the rumble of a concrete mixer'' just before her Larry King interview.
''I heard King say, 'What the hell was that?'''

Late, Late at Night Rick Springfield
As a teen he was part of a group of kids who held up a convenience store.
''The write-up in the paper about the robbery is my first press!''

He cheated on his wife for years, even right after the birth of their second son.
''It is a testament to B's soul that she only throws a carton of milk at me.''

He has a better toy collection than his kids.
''And they aren't allowed to touch 'em.''

Hoda Hoda Kotb
Lessons she's learned from working at Dateline:
(1) ''Life at the network can be unbelievably glamorous.''
(2) ''Stone Phillips is — so — incredibly — hot.''

She loves Kathie Lee, but...
''Some days I want to take her to the mat and stick gum in her hair.''

She found out about her breast cancer and her husband's infidelity at the same time.
''My broken breast was located directly over my broken heart.''

Originally posted Oct 15, 2010 Published in issue #1124 Oct 15, 2010 Order article reprints