Speak of Me As I Am
Speak of Me as I Am by Sonia Belasco follows the narratives of Melanie and Damon, two high schoolers attempting to cope with the loss of a loved one. Melanie, the daughter of an artist and a chef, lives a life in the shadows, despite her flaming red hair, hair she dyed after the loss of her mother. Damon, the son of a middle- to upper-class African American family, deals with the loss of his best friend, Carlos, who killed himself despite the outwardly happy demeanor he maintained. As the two attempt to make peace, if they ever can, with the life and death of these important figures in their lives, they also find new beginnings in each other, forming a relationship that centers on the rehearsals of the school play, Othello. The practice of this Shakespearean tragedy pushes both characters to confront their grief in complex ways, tying the narrative of the play and the story of the novel.
Ultimately, when Belasco succeeds, she triumphs. The emotions she elicits surrounding deep sorrow, anger, and frustration shook me to the core, bringing a wrenching in my chest unlike a book had evoked in a long time. I not only felt the emotions of Melanie and Damon but somehow achieved empathy through the words surrounding their stories of loss. It is unfortunate that some of the other elements fell short for me. Aspects of the relationship between Melanie and Damon, while cute, felt gimmicky and cliched. And while Belasco dealt with the stereotypical gay best friend in a new way, something about the stereotype of the outsider that Melanie and Damon both fit into felt a little tired. For me, Belasco was at her best when writing about the tragic and the thematic elements but relied too heavily on tropes for sappy moments. And while this is true, the times when she succeeds far outweigh the pitfalls, making Speak of Me As I Am worth the read.