SPEECH TEAM by Tim Murphy

Speech Team by Tim Murphy is about five people who were members of a speech team at a public high school in Massachusetts in the 1980s. In 2019, one of the members has committed suicide and left a goodbye post on Facebook in which he called out their speech coach for saying something awful to him in high school that he carried through his life. The suicide causes the remaining four members to get back in touch with each other and compare notes about their own negative experiences with the coach. Speech Team is about the reunion of these four classmates and the complicated feelings it unearths.

Why I picked it up: The 80s setting, the premise, and the fact that Murphy was a college classmate of mine and I’ve always wanted to read one of his books.

Tip Murray, who lives an unexciting life in Providence with his partner, has battled demons from high school bullying and his own anger at Gary, the speech coach who said denigrating things to Tip in high school when he suspected the student was gay. When his former classmate Pete kills himself, he reaches out to his best friend Nat from high school. While she claims not to have had issues with Gary, they end up getting in touch with Jennifer and Anthony, two other classmates with their own axes to grind. They decide to go to Sarasota FL for a long weekend ostensibly to hang out and enjoy each other’s company, but really so that they can confront Gary, who now lives there, about the racist, homophobic and wholly inappropriate things he said to them in high school.

Speech Team was my first book by Tim Murphy, who is an incisive, funny writer. The 80s nostalgia is spot on, but deeper than that, Murphy does a great job of depicting the interplay between these four people. The decades may have passed, but the wounds are still fresh – and not just the ones inflicted by Gary. Tip, especially, carries anger at his friends, which comes out during their time in Florida as they excavate the past and reveal more about who they were as teenagers than they ever shared at the time.

Without revealing too much – this is a book about forgiveness and letting go of the past so that you can enjoy who you are now. It’s dark, cynical and highly entertaining, but also poignant and introspective.

Speech Team was the 39th book of 2023.