Contains mild spoilers for Speak which everyone probably already knows by now or doesn't care about in the first place...
I read Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak in the summer before 9th grade. I had long seen it on recommended lists for high school students, recommended lists for teenagers, on Amazon (which at the time had a slightly normal recommendation algorithm), and finally it was personally recommended to me. And so I read it.
Speak has become by now a classic of young adult literature. Regardless what I might have thought upon rereading it, there is no doubt that it deserves that status. Reading it as a teenager was enlightening - this was the first book I had ever read that had included an explicit rape scene, and had then, firmly, sharply, pointedly called it a rape. Reading it was like opening a door to an ugly new reality of adulthood - bad things happen. They happen because you make small mistakes, or even without you making any mistakes, they happen violently, they happen quietly, but they happen. And they leave their marks. At the time, Speak was a hugely powerful book, one that shook me to my core. At the time, I didn't care what adults thought of the book on a critical level (this was just a bit before I became fully immersed in the literary/critical world), but it was clear to me - from my reaction and those of other young adults around me - that the book deserved its praise and classic status.
And rereading it as an adult, I stand by my judgement.
I can't disconnect my first experience from this one. I remembered the story and I remembered the important plot points; nothing could really surprise or shock me the way it did the first time. Yet as I dove in (from the middle, then quickly rushing back to start again from the beginning, then jumping back to the point I had left off near the end), I realized how much I had forgotten about the book. I'd forgotten how much more Speak is about Melinda's struggle than it is about her growth. How little of the book takes place after her revelation and her confession. How much the book focuses on the minor (and major) hells of high school.
Speak will always be "the rape book", because ultimately that's what it's about. That's its core, that's the issue that haunts Melinda and haunts the reader as well. But bigger picture, Speak is also just an outstanding example of how young adult literature gets it right. Anderson doesn't talk down to teens, rather writes a book that feels like it's really coming from their level. Melinda's voice is pure and powerful and affecting, no matter your age.