Front cover of Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

CONTENT WARNING: discussions of rape and sexual assault.

after you shout 
your open mouth
will breathe in
the light for which
you've hungered

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson is a powerful and confronting memoir told in verse with anger, compassion and hope. Split into three sections, the first half of the book chronicles moments from Anderson's life, from childhood through teenagerdom, up to the publication of her first novel, Speak. She discusses her father's PTSD and alcoholism, her mother's neuroses, her own body issues, school life and, focally, her experience of being raped as a 13 year old.

While much of this section is obviously upsetting, confronting and dark, there are moments of light - most notably Anderson's year in Denmark as a foreign exchange student.

My home in Denmark taught me how to speak 
again, how to reinterpret darkness and light,
strength and softness

Anderson's Danish adventure clearly provided her with much needed respite, space and distance - and this passage of the book does the same for the reader. Her sense of release is palpable in these pages. This section also featured one of the book's few laugh out loud moments (the perils of having a conversation about how to deal with rats in a barn when you are not fluent in Danish).

The second part of the book is less narrative driven, featuring snippets of experiences, thoughts and conversations she's had with other survivors of sexual assault; conversations overheard heard on trains and in cafes; rants at anatomically confusing Ken dolls; encounters with institutional abuse; musings on the teenage experience; connecting with school kids when travelling around the world to talk about her books; clashes with censors and silencers.

Principle Principle tells me my day 
is done
talking about sex
                 and rape
                          and bodies
                                      and touching
        and consent
and violence
is not appropriate for the children
under his care
those things don't ever happen
in his school

There are stories here that will make you seethe with anger, fume at the frustrations of dealing with censorship and blinkered denial, rage against the systems that enable these horrors to keep happening, that make the victims blame themselves and suffer alone. But there are also stories that will fill you with hope and love, the feeling that things can change when you fight (well done, people of Ballarat. More so than the first part of the book, the poems in this section work as stand-alone pieces, while still working together as a coherent whole - an impressive literary feat.

Part three is very short, and features poems and musings on Anderson's parents and her family history - including a lesson on how to pronounce "Halse" (it rhymes with "vaults", if you want to know). It is also worth noting that the book ends with a list of resources for readers dealing with issues raised in the book (the edition I have features resources in Australia, New Zealand and the UK)

This book is about compassion. It's about hurt and healing, justice and truth, giving voices to the voiceless. It is sad and hopeful, angry and loving, beautiful and ugly. It is a light at the end of a tunnel.

The opposite of innocence  
is not sin. Dearly Beloved,
the opposite of innocence
is strength
Front cover of Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Thanks to the generous folks at Turnaround for the review copy.