By Lindsay Jamieson
New York Times best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson departs from her beloved YA fiction with Shout, her brilliant new memoir written in verse.
Shout, published in March, 2019, marks the twentieth anniversary of Anderson’s groundbreaking novel, Speak, which told the story of Melinda, a 13-year-old who stops speaking after she’s raped. With Shout, Anderson opens a window into the personal experiences that gave her the insight, empathy, and emotion to conjure Melinda, a protagonist who, as she reveals in Shout, has become a hero (and a moniker) for survivors—men and women—of sexual assault. Anderson, like Melinda, was also raped at 13, and she is an ardent believer that words—spoken, shouted, and written—offer a “bridge to escape” the shame. As the last line of the introduction states: “This is the story of a girl who lost her voice and wrote herself a new one.”
Anderson tells her life story in tiny snapshots and memories—the moments, events, and people that have influenced the arc of her life. Each poem is beautifully written and filled with vivid, often haunting descriptions. It’s a brilliant memoir device. Anderson strings indelible images from her life into a collection; poignant, gut-wrenching dots that, once connected, uncover what made her the person and artist she’s become.
SHOUT begins with verses that include specifics of Anderson’s childhood, her family’s particular pathos—a broken WW2 veteran, a sister, and a shame-silenced wife. She then writes the painful details of her own rape and how it inspired Speak. “IT, part 1—gasoline,” begins with this reveal:
Remember the line in Speak,
“And I thought for just a minute there that…
I would start high school with a boyfriend’?
yeah, that was me
for a couple of naive days
when I was
thirteen years old.
In “Part 2—trees,” after several verses of sublime late summer imagery, the poem, like Anderson’s life, takes a fateful turn:
the course predetermined one hand on my mouth
his body covering smothering mine
I took my eyes off the rage
in his face and looked up to the green peace
of leaves fluttering above, trees witnessing
pain shame I crawled into the farthest corner
of my mind biding time hiding surviving
With this poem, Anderson joins the hundreds of survivors she meets as an author, by writing her own truth. This “sorority has millions of sisters,” and brothers, too, who share their stories, sometimes for the first time. “I am Melinda,” says a male film crew electrician in “wired together.” As survivors they are all forever linked.
While many of these poems are heartbreaking, Anderson also weaves through a thread of good fortune, hope, and gratitude—for the teacher who suggested sports, for the year she spent abroad—both of which helped her heal and strengthened her “untested wings.”
And she’s now a beloved writer, a voice for those shamed into silence. She broke out of the paralyzing “concrete,” which makes Shout as inspiring as it is upsetting.
Throughout the book, Anderson also touches on the craft of writing and what it means to her, which is fascinating. It’s like seeing behind the curtain at the inner workings of her brain in a way that a traditional memoir might not have captured. In “tangled” she uses knitting as a metaphor for her craft:
I have two bookcases
filled to spilling
with balls of yarn entwined
with dreams and schemes
for a life creative
enough to knit, stitch
all my prayers into sweaters.
Shout is exactly that: memories and ideas and details knitted together into one remarkable work. With so few words on the page, she achieves incredible intimacy, depth, and power. In 122 poems, Anderson cuts right to the core of not only her own story, but also that of the stories of the hundreds of survivors she’s met, and does so with acute and exquisite imagery and prose.
Lindsay Jamieson published her first novel, Beautiful Girl, with Paper Lantern Lit under a pen name, Lida James. She has sold/optioned screenplays to Davis Entertainment, CBS, and producer Adam Merims, and was a contributing writer on Jed Weintraub’s feature film The F Word. Currently, she’s the fiction editor at The Coachella Review and writes for several online publications while pursuing an MFA at UC Riverside, raising her two teens, and snowboarding whenever she can.