Farrar, Straus and Giroux has announced it will publish a graphic novel adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which the house originally released in 1999. The novel centers on Melinda, a teen who retreats into isolation and silence after she is raped, finding solace only in her art. It was a National Book Award finalist for Young People’s Literature and has sold more than three million copies domestically. The graphic novel, which is tentatively scheduled for fall 2016, will be adapted by Anderson and illustrated by Emily Carroll.
“I have wanted to do a graphic novel of Speak for some time,” Anderson said. “Once I saw how graphic novels were becoming so popular, and given that Melinda finds her voice through her art, it’s the perfect YA novel to be told in this format.”
The author, who estimates that she is one-quarter of the way through the adaptation, said she is enjoying the challenge. “It’s definitely different from novel writing, though I have written a half-dozen picture books – that’s how I started in the business,” she said. “The fun part with this adaptation is figuring out how few words I can get away with. Some of my favorite moments in the novel are those when Melinda can’t speak because she is so hampered by her depression and the hard things that have happened to her. Now I’ll get the chance to turn that over to Emily, who gets to show readers how those silent moments look and feel. It will be exciting to see her artistic interpretation.”
Vancouver-based Carroll, a veteran of television animation, has also written and illustrated Into the Woods, a collection of Grimm-influenced short stories that McElderry Books will publish in spring 2014. She is now working on the illustrations for Baba Yaga’s Assistant, a graphic novel by Marika McCoola, due from Candlewick in fall 2015.
Carroll anticipates that illustrating Speak will be a very different challenge for her, “for a lot of reasons.” First, she said, “The novel has meant so much to so many people since its release that it’s a lot to live up to. There’s also the story itself, which is rooted in much more modern-day realism than my previous work, and the fact that so much of it takes place inside the main character’s head, where we hear her thoughts, her fears, and see the world from her perspective. Balancing how Melinda sees the world with the actual world itself is a lot to keep in mind when you're translating that internal struggle to visuals.”
The artist, who said she read Speak in a single afternoon, said she felt a strong connection to the novel. “I expected to cry, and I did, but I was surprised to laugh a few times too,” she explained. “Melinda reminded me a lot of myself at her age, which I’m sure is a feeling experienced by a lot of readers. Laurie captured her voice so perfectly – it is heartbreaking and real. I also really connected with Melinda’s relationship to art. Her creating it – and struggling with it – is such a central aspect to the book, as well as to her own recovery. I have definitely had points in my life where art was what I held onto to see me through, even if the process of creating it was painful or frustrating.”
Carroll anticipates that her illustrations for Speak will be a mix of digital art and “real media.” “I’m thinking very much in terms of nibs, brushes, and ink – tools that can be used very roughly or very elegantly, depending on the story’s need– with a very subdued palette,” she said. “I’d like what we see to be very much informed by how Melinda feels.”
At Farrar, Straus and Giroux, editorial director Joy Peskin is thrilled that Speak will have a new incarnation, and expects that the graphic novel will attract readers new to the book as well as those familiar with it. “Every year readers are aging into teenhood who aren’t aware of Speak,” she said, “and since so much storytelling today is done in visual ways, I think a lot of today’s readers will come to the new edition through their love of graphics. The graphic novel will give others who have already read Speak and loved it a new way to revisit and appreciate the story.”
Peskin is also pleased that Carroll agreed to come on board as illustrator. The editor discovered her work with the help of Calista Brill, senior editor of Roaring Brook’s First Second graphic novel imprint. “I was aware that Calista knows everyone who is anyone in that business, so I asked her to put together a shortlist of potential illustrators for Speak,” said Peskin. “Looking at art samples, I knew immediately that Emily was the one. There are so many different styles in graphic novels. Some of the art is superhero-y or cartoony, which wasn’t right for the book. Emily’s art is more artistic and has an emotional depth. So it all came together perfectly.”
Anderson, too, gives Carroll the seal of approval. “Emily’s drawings are dark, but she knows how to create moments of light in the darkness,” she said. “She is a perfect fit for the book.”