Anderson, Laurie Halse 1961-

views updated

ANDERSON, Laurie Halse 1961-

PERSONAL: Born October 23, 1961, in Potsdam, NY; daughter of Frank A., Jr. (a Methodist minister) and Joyce (in management) Halse; married Gregory H. Anderson (chief executive officer of Anderson Financial Systems), June 19, 1983 (divorced, 2002); married Scott Larrabee (a construction company owner), June 5, 2004; children: Stephanie, Meredith; (stepchildren) Jessica, Christian. Education: Onondaga County Community College, A.A., 1981; Georgetown University, B.S.L.L., 1984. Politics: Independent. Religion: Society of Friends (Quaker). Hobbies and other interests: American history, advocating for children and teens.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—P.O. Box 906, Mexico, NY 13114. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Former journalist for Philadelphia Inquirer and other newspapers; writer and speaker at numerous schools, conventions, and other gatherings, beginning 1998.

MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Author's Guild, PEN American Center.

AWARDS, HONORS: "Pick of the Lists," American Booksellers Association, 1996, for Ndito Runs; National Book Award finalist in Young People's Literature, 1999, Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Printz Honor Medal Book Award nomination, Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination, Golden Kite award nomination, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators,School Library Journal Best Book citation, Booklist's Top Ten First Novels listee, and Horn Book Fanfare Honor listee, all 1999, and American Library Association (ALA) Honor listee for excellence in literature for young adults, 2000, all for Speak; Henry Bergh ASPCA Award for Children's Books, 2000, for Fight for Life; ALA Best Books for Young Adults selection, Parent's Guide to Children's Media Award, "Pick of the Lists," American Booksellers Association, 100 Best Books of Fall selection, Jefferson Cup Honor Book, and New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age designation, all 2000, Free Library of Philadelphia/Drexel University Children's Literature Citation, 2002, Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award, 2003, and Great Lakes Great Books Award, all for Fever 1793; Children's Book Council Children's Choice title, 2002, for Say Good-Bye; New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age designation, and Barnes & Noble Best Teen Book of the Year listee, 2002, and ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults designation, 2003, all for Catalyst; Once upon a World Award, Simon Weisenthal Center, Chapman Award for Shared Reading, and Teacher's Choice Award, International Reading Association, 2003, and Storytelling World Honor designation, 2004, all for Thank You, Sarah!; Fayettevill-Manlius Hall of Distinction honoree, 2004.


Speak, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

Fever 1793, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.

(With Ward K. Swallow) The Shy Child: Helping Children Triumph over Shyness, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Saudi Arabia (part of "A Ticket To" series), Carolrhoda Books, 2001.

Catalyst, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.

Prom, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.

Short stories have appeared in anthologies, including Dirty Laundry, Viking (New York, NY), 1998; and Love and Sex, Simon & Schuster, (New York, NY), 2001.


Fight for Life: Maggie, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.

Homeless: Sunita, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.

The Trickster, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.

Manatee Blues, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.

Say Goodbye, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2001.

Storm Rescue, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2001.

Teacher's Pet, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2001.

Trapped, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2001.

Fear of Falling, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2001.

Time to Fly, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2002.

Masks, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2002.

End of the Race, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2002.


Ndito Runs, illustrated by Anita Van der Merwe, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

Turkey Pox, illustrated by Dorothy Donohue, Albert Whitman, 1996.

No Time for Mother's Day, illustrated by Dorothy Donohue, Albert Whitman, 1999.

The Big Cheese of Third Street, illustrated by David Gordon. Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.

Thank you, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, illustrated by Matt Faulkner, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.

ADAPTATIONS: Thank You, Sarah! and The Big Cheese of Third Street were adapted for video by Spoken Arts. Several of the author's books have been adapted as audio books.

SIDELIGHTS: Laurie Halse Anderson became a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award with her first work of fiction for young adults, Speak. The 1999 novel won an array of honors for Anderson, the author of three earlier picture books for younger readers, for its searing portrayal of a fourteen-year-old girl who becomes mute after a sexual assault. Nancy Matson, writing for, hailed Anderson as "a gifted new writer whose novel shows that she understands (and remembers) the raw emotion and tumult that marks the lives of teenagers."

The inspiration for Speak, Anderson's first book aimed at teenage readers, which was published in 1999, came from a bad dream that woke the author one night in the summer of 1996. She had been plagued by nightmares all of her life, Anderson explained in the ALAN Review. "Since I can't afford extensive psychotherapy, I write down my nightmares. . . . After an hour of scribbling in my journal or pounding the keyboard, the most horrific night-vision is reduced to a pile of sentences. And I can go back to sleep." On that night in 1996, Anderson was roused by the sound of a girl crying. Upon checking on her daughters and finding them undisturbed, she realized it had all been a dream. Wide awake by then, she went to her desk to write, but could still hear the girl's sobbing in her head. "Once the word processor blinked awake, she stopped," Anderson wrote in the ALAN Review. "She made a tapping noise and blew into a microphone. 'Is this thing on?' she asked. 'I have a story to tell you.' That is how I met Melinda Sordino, the protagonist of Speak."

Melinda recounts her tale in short chapters, and Speak is divided into the four marking periods of a school year. As it opens, Melinda's first day of high school is off to a disastrous start. No one will sit next to her on the bus, and the other students make derisive remarks about her when they are not shunning her completely. As the story unfolds, Melinda reveals the reason behind the ostracism: at an end-of-summer drinking party hosted by a group of older students, she drank too much and was sexually assaulted by a popular senior. A call made to 911 from the house brought the police, and the party was broken up. Some kids were arrested, and Melinda's "odd" behavior that night reveals to others that she was the caller.

As the weeks of her freshman year wear on, Melinda has no friends. When she sees her rapist in the halls, the young man continues to taunt her by winking at her; Melinda can only refer to him as "IT." She has told no one about the crime, and finds it increasingly difficult to communicate. She bites her lip incessantly, and her busy parents do not seem to notice the scabs or even that anything wrong. At times, Melinda's narrative recounts dialogue, which takes the form of an exchange between someone else, and Melinda's "Me," which is rarely followed by any lines. She feels stifled. "All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie," Melinda scoffs. "Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say."

"While Melinda's smart and savvy interior narrative slowly reveals the searing pain of that 911 night, it also nails the high-school experience cold," a Horn Book reviewer noted. Melinda's friends from middle school have dispersed into different cliques, and her former best friend changes her name from Rachel to Rachelle and hangs out only with the foreign exchange students. Everyone else is hostile to her. Despite the trauma, Melinda emerges as a wry observer of high school life. As narrator she analyzes the various school cliques, which she tags by various names: Eurotrash, Country Clubbers, Jocks, Future Fascists of America, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths, and Marthas, among others. As Speak progresses, Melinda makes one friend, Heather, who recently moved to town and knows nothing about the 911 call. But Melinda is only nominally interested in being friends with the girl, who wants to be a Martha, one of the "the do-gooder bunch who collect food cans for the less fortunate and decorates the teachers' lounge," as Nancy Matson explained in The Marthas, however "are not a whit less brutal than any of the other high school cliques," Matson observed.

Melinda finds some solace in her art class, where her sympathetic teacher seems to be the only one who realizes that something is amiss in her life. As Melinda's grades decline over the marking periods, she grows increasingly withdrawn and even begins to find refuge by hiding in a closet at school. Her voice manages to assert itself in other ways besides her internal narrative: through her tree project for art class, for instance, or a piece of graffiti she begins on the wall of a bathroom stall, "Ten Guys to Stay Away From." When her ex-best friend begins dating "IT," Melinda finally begins to realize what the real cost of her silence may be. In a nightmarish denouement, she finds herself in danger again, and at last finds the voice to scream.

Reviewers of Speak were generous in their praise. "In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager," a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote. Paula Rohrlick of Kliatt noted that "Melinda's voice is bitter, sardonic and always believable," and predicted that the heroine's "bleak, scathingly honest depiction of the world of high school will ring true for many." A reviewer writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books observed that "Anderson doesn't overburden Melinda with insight or with artistic metaphors," and concluded by calling the novel "a gripping account of personal wounding and recovery." Writing for School Library Journal, Dina Sherman stated that Speak "is a compelling book, with sharp, crisp writing that draws readers in, engulfing them in the story." A contributor to Horn Book predicted that the novel "will hold readers from first word to last." Writing in Kirkus Reviews, a reviewer commended Anderson for her engaging story and strong characters, but pointed out that "it is its raw and unvarnished look at the dynamics" among the teenagers portrayed in Speak "that makes this a novel that will be hard for readers to forget."

At the time that she had the nightmare that brought Melinda alive, Anderson had been reading Reviving Ophelia, a best-selling study from Nebraska psychologist Mary Pipher about preteen girls and the difficulties they face. "I had been processing all this information about adolescence and girls, and remembered all too vividly what it was like," Anderson told Jennifer M. Brown in a Publishers Weekly interview. "Speak is the least deliberately written book I've ever done." As the author wrote in the ALAN Review, she grew very attached to her heroine, whom she refers to as "Mellie," over the course of writing her story. "The ending of the book was the hardest. In fact, I had to do it three times to get it right. My patient, very smart editor, Elizabeth Mikesell, gently pushed me to do it over until I found the right ending. I was not happy about it at the time, but she was right. I was too protective of Mellie. I didn't want her to get hurt again. I couldn't stand the thought of leaving her unprotected." In fact, as Anderson told a Book Bag contributor, she felt so close to her character that it was sometimes hard to remember that she existed only on paper. Anderson noted, "When my editor called me to say she wanted to publish the book, I was really bummed because I wanted to call Melinda and tell her, she was so real to me!"

Anderson has also written a historical novel for teens, Fever 1793, which appeared in 2000. The work is set in post-revolutionary times during a yellow fever outbreak. Matilda Cook is fourteen that summer, and her family owns a coffeehouse in Philadelphia, which was also the capital of the United States at the time. When Matilda is separated from her mother and her grandfather succumbs to the epidemic, she is saved by the freed slave who works at the coffeehouse. Through her, the teen becomes involved in the Free African Society, and by the end of the novel Matilda has emerged as the almost-adult proprietor of the coffeehouse. "Readers will be drawn in by the characters and will emerge with a sharp and graphic picture of another world," opined School Library Journal reviewer Kathleen Isaacs.

In Catalyst Anderson tells the story of eighteen-year-old Kate Malone whose life becomes unraveled after she is rejection in her application to attend college at MIT. Extremely disappointed, Kate begins a deep struggle with her good and bad sides while she runs the household of her Preacher father, a chore she has been doing for some time since her mother died nine years earlier. Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer commented that some readers "may be confused about what makes her tick." Nevertheless, the reviewer noted that "the universal obstacles she faces and the realistic outcome will likely hold reader's attention." Anderson's 2003 book, Thank You Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, focuses on the true-life story of Sara Hale, an overachieving woman in the mid-1800s who juggled duties as a magazine editor, mother, teacher, and feminist. Hale is largely credited with saving the holiday of Thanksgiving. For nearly four decades Hale wrote letters to various U.S. presidents asking that Thanksgiving be made a national holiday, finally having her request granted by Abraham Lincoln. Writing in the School Library Journal, Louise L. Sherman commented, "Anderson turns a little-known historical tidbit into a fresh, funny, and inspirational alternative to the standard Thanksgiving stories." The book received the 2003 Once upon a World Award given by the Simon Weisenthal Center and was recommended by the Amelia Bloomer Project on its third annual list of feminist books for young readers.

Anderson's first picture book was Ndito Runs, published in 1996. Illustrated by Anita Van der Merwe, the story depicts a typical morning's journey for Ndito, a Kenyan girl whose path to school traverses some of her country's characteristically stunning landscape. Ndito imagines herself as the various animals she encounters, such as the crane and the dik-dik. Anderson also wrote a second picture book that appeared in 1996. Turkey Pox, illustrated by Dorothy Donohue, follows Charity, a youngster girl who looks forward to spending the Thanksgiving holiday with her beloved grandmother. In their haste to depart Charity's harried family does not take notice of her face. It is only when they are in the car that they realize she has a case of chicken pox. The discovery forces them to return home, and a snowstorm further complicates matters. The disconsolate Charity is cheered when her intrepid Nana arrives, having hitched a ride with snowplowers and bringing along her roasted turkey. The family then decorates the bird with cherries to resemble poor Charity's face. In another story about Charity and her busy family, No Time for Mother's Day, the girl is confounded by the holiday and what she might give her mother as a present. After following her parent around on a very busy Saturday, Charity realizes what her mom really needs is a day of peace and quiet. "The message about modern life and how to make it just a bit simpler should hit close to home," wrote Ilene Cooper in Booklist.



Anderson, Laurie Halse, Speak, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.


ALAN Review, spring-summer, 2000, Laurie Halse Anderson, "Speaking Out," pp. 25-26.

Booklist, March 15, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Ndito Runs, p. 1268; September 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Turkey Pox, p. 35; February 15, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of No Time for Mother's Day, p. 1073; September 15, 1999, Debbie Carton, review of Speak; November 15, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Speak, p. 618; May 1, 2000, Lauren Peterson, review of Fight for Life, p. 1665; October 1, 2000, Frances Bradburn, review of Fever 1793, p. 332; April 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Fever 1793, p. 1486; December 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, p. 764.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1996, Janice Del Negro, review of Turkey Pox, pp. 89-90; April, 1999, review of No Time for Mother's Day, pp. 271-272; October, 1999, review of Speak, p. 45.

Children's Book Review Service, April, 1996, p. 97.

Horn Book, fall, 1996, p. 246; September, 1999, review of Speak, p. 605; September, 2000, Anita K. Burkam, review of Fever 1793, p. 562.

Kirkus Reviews, September 19, 1999, review of Speak, p. 1496.

Kliatt, September, 1999, Paula Rohrlick, review of Speak, p. 4.

New York Times Book Review, November 19, 2000, Constance Decker Thompson, review of Fever 1793, pp. 45-46.

Publishers Weekly, review of Ndito Runs, March 18, 1996, pp. 68-69; September 20, 1996, review of Turkey Pox, p. 87; September 13, 1999, review of Speak, p. 85; December 20, 1999, Jennifer M. Brown, "In Dreams Begin Possibilities," p. 24; July 31, 2000, review of Fever 1793, p. 96; July 22, 2002, review of Catalyst, p. 180.

School Library Journal, May, 1996, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of Ndito Runs, p. 84; October, 1996, Lisa Marie Gangemi, review of Turkey Pox, p. 84; April, 1999, Roxanne Burg, review of No Time for Mother's Day, p. 85; October, 1999, Dina Sherman, review of Speak, p. 144; July, 2000, Janie Schomberg, review of Fight for Life, p. 100; August, 2000, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Fever 1793, p. 177; December, 2000, Ronni Krasnow, review of Homeless: Sunita, p. 138; January, 2001, Carol Johnson Shedd, review of Saudi Arabia, p. 112; July, 2001, Jennifer Ralston, review of Say Goodbye, p. 102; October, 2002, Lynn Bryant, review of Catalyst, p. 154; December, 2002, Louise L. Sherman, review of Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, p. 116.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 2000, Christine M. Hill, "Laurie Halse Anderson Speaks: An Interview," pp. 325-327; December, 2000, Dr. Stefani Koorey, review of Fever 1793, p. 344.

ONLINE, (May 24, 2001), interview with Anderson.

Book Bag Web site, (May 24, 2001), interview with Anderson., (May 24, 2001), Nancy Matson, review of Speak.

Laurie's Bookshelf, (May 24, 2001).

Publishers Weekly Online, (May 24, 2001), Laurie Halse Anderson, "The Books That Changed My Life."

About this article

Anderson, Laurie Halse 1961-

Updated About content Print Article