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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Prater

The First Ten Lies They Tell You

Updated: Sep 20, 2022



Anderson, L. H. (2011). Speak (Reprint ed.). Square Fish. ASIN B08YMZRQJ7


From the moment the bus doors open, Melinda is dreading where to sit and wondering if any of her friends have decided to talk to her. It’s the first day of freshman year at Merryweather High School and Melinda is not looking forward to it. As the bus leaves the last bus stop, Melinda is the only person sitting alone and it’s clear from the way everyone is treating her that something happened over the summer. It turns out that she is friendless because she broke up an end-of-summer party by calling the police. But Melinda is the only one that knows the real reason behind her call: she was raped at the party by Andy Evans, a popular senior at her school. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking to everyone, including her parents. Slowly, she does find solace in her art class, and through her work on a project, she begins to find the courage to speak out. However, just as her healing process begins, Melinda is cornered by Andy after school and has a violent encounter with him. But this time, Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and gains the upper hand. Fortunately, some of her new friends witness Andy’s aggressive behavior and the truth comes out.


The story begins with Melinda anxiously waiting for the bus on her first day of high school. She’s hoping to talk to her best friend, Rachel, but no one will sit by her, much less look at her on the bus. Melinda enters high school with “the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, and the wrong attitude.” Anderson perfectly describes the cruelty and viciousness of the public-school experience as Melinda sits alone “clan less” in the auditorium for the back-to-school orientation. “The First Ten Lies They Tell You” including (number ten: “These will be the years you look back on fondly”) transcend time and maintain relevance 20 years later in the Anniversary Edition. As Melinda slowly reveals what happened over the summer that isolated her from everyone, her sarcastic wit and honesty perfectly describe the harsh realities of contemporary high school life and painfully allude to a life-changing event.

Written in the form of diary entries, the story is divided into four marking periods of an academic year. “Melinda’s voice is distinct, unusual, and very real as she recounts her past and present experiences in bitterly ironic, occasionally even amusing vignettes” (Booklist, 1999). Everyone she knows, including her parents, is noticing Melinda has changed as her grades decline and she loses the one friend she made this year, the new girl. As she retreats into the background, Melinda is feeling helpless and out of control. They want to know what's wrong, but Melinda can’t even really articulate what happened. It’s only through her work in art class, and with the help of her teacher, that Melinda can self-reflect, reduce her anxiety, discover her voice and her ability to speak. Through art, Melinda begins the process of healing and regaining the control she lost in the sexual assault. The book is YA, but it is geared towards a mature audience as it explores difficult themes such as trauma, sexuality, and teenage friendship.

Although this book is frequently challenged for the reasons mentioned, it is a powerful novel that deals with a difficult yet important topic of rape. It has won multiple awards, been adapted into a graphic novel, a Hollywood movie, and is widely celebrated as an effective way of teaching young people about sexual assault while helping teenagers with their own traumatic experiences. It does what all good books and characters do. It allows us to experience the turmoil of the protagonists, to feel their agony, to empathize, and should mature our thoughts about what is right and wrong. In the audio version, the forward is narrated by Ashley C. Ford and the afterward is narrated by Jason Reynolds. Their personal stories reinforce the importance of this narrative and this conversation.


This powerful novel deals with a difficult yet important topic-rape. Melinda is just starting high school. It should be one of the greatest times in her life, but instead of enjoying herself, she is an outcast. She has been marked as the girl who called the police to break up the big end-of-the-summer party, and all the kids are angry at her. Even her closest friends have pulled away. No one knows why she made the call, and even Melinda can't really articulate what happened. As the school year goes on, her grades plummet and she withdraws into herself to the point that she's barely speaking. Her only refuge is her art class, where she learns to find ways to express some of her feelings. The healing process will take time, but Melinda no longer has to deal with it alone. Anderson expresses the emotions and the struggles of teenagers perfectly. Melinda's pain is palpable, and readers will totally empathize with her. This is a compelling book, with sharp, crisp writing that draws readers in, engulfing them in the story.

- School Library Journal (October 1999)


· Michael L. Printz Honor, 2000

· National Book Award Finalist, 1999

· Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist, 2000


Similar Items You May Enjoy:

· Fault Line, by Christa Desir

· Empty, by KM Walton

· The Way I Used to Be, by Amber Smith

Major Themes

Isolation — Melinda’s silence and her inability to talk to others about what happened to her.

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Grief — This novel exemplifies the immobility that derives from grief and depicts the true dangers of depression.

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Hope — Melinda finally tells someone about her attack and undergoes a transformation from the sullen, quiet girl she was at the beginning, to a person with a renewed sense of self.

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Classroom Applications

· Trace the main characters' personal growth over the course of the novel.

· Identify & discuss the books’ use of sensory images

how they relate to the character’s emotions.

· Identify the antagonist(s) throughout the novel.

· Scavenger Hunts: Symbolism; Allusion; Similes & Metaphors

· High School Clique Discussion & Reflection Activity

· Melinda’s Blog Writing Activity

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