Thursday, March 26, 2015

All the Rage

I've been sitting on this book.  Okay, not literally, because a) I had an e-ARC and b) even if it was a physical book, ouch.  I don't feel qualified to review it.  It's so good.  I could just type WOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOW! over and over again and I think that would barely scratch the surface of how marvelous this book truly is.


As of me writing this, there's been all sorts of, shall we say, drama about young adult books and the way women are treated in publishing and as fictional characters.  A lot of people have been made to feel othered simply because of their gender.  The Interwebs complains that women who speak up and who point out flaws and who have feelings about being shunted to the side are, well, I won't say what most people said.  We're hysterical, we're harpies, we're nasty, we're demanding, we're bullies.

No.

We're really, really tired of being told we're worth nothing.  I'm tired of it.  I'm tired of worrying that a teen girl who comes in my library has something to fear from another guy in the place because he thinks it's funny or cool or just his right to ogle her because of her body.  I'm tired of girls thinking that they need to change or hide their bodies because they are too big or too small or too curvy or too straight or too anything.  And heaven forbid that what a girl says is taken seriously.  We all know that it's all for attention, amirite, guyz?

All the Rage is about rape, yes, but it's also about being silenced, about abuse of power, about prejudice, and about what it's really like to grow up female.

When a book reaches deep down into my soul and gives it a good twist, I generally have two reactions: ugly cry or stunned silence.  All the Rage evoked the latter, which to me, is harder to deal with and express.  For example, The Book Thief made me ugly cry.  My brother walked in on me reading Augustus Waters' obituary and freaked out because he thought something was wrong with me because I was sobbing fit to burst.  But All the Rage?  It goes along with the books that have changed me: To Kill A Mockingbird, Speak, Reality Boy.  And something they all have in common is the refusal of a person in power to believe the truth being spoken by the oppressed or disenfranchised.

I have a recurring nightmare.  It's more of a theme than a specific dream, but it always involves me being forced to do something against my will.  Nine times out of ten, it's getting married to someone I don't love.  I'm a commitment-phobe.  I have panic attacks at other people's weddings because the idea of getting married is so big that I feel completely overwhelmed.  In my nightmares, my parents generally set me up to marry someone I know but don't love, which might even be worse than marrying someone I don't know at all.  Now, lest you think that this might actually happen, my parents are wonderful.  They would never, ever, ever do anything like this.  They want me to be happy, and if my happy means that I am not married or with someone right now, that's great!

But underneath it all, it's not about the actual marriage: it's that I'm saying to someone with more power than me (my parents): "No, no, no, I don't want this.  Don't make me do this," and they refuse to listen.  My opinion and my feelings mean nothing.  This scares me so badly that I feel sick just writing about it.

Those are the emotions I felt as I read Romy's story.  The boy who raped her was the sheriff's son.  She had a crush on him, wanted to be with him.  People took her infatuation as consent.  Saying, "He's hot," or "I want his body" is not giving consent to a person to have sex.  So the town shuns her. The sheriff, obviously, covers it over and sends golden boy off to school.  Romy's branded a slut and a liar.  Her own mother can't (or won't) help her.  After all, how do you report a rape to a police force who has already decided your testimony isn't worth jack?

"He says, so I hope we can get this sorted out before you make it worse for yourselves.

There is no way to stop this.

He says, but I want to understand, Romy, so you tell me what you think happened.

And it's not that she tells him it didn't happen, it's that by the time he asks, she no longer has a language of her own.  But that's enough.  It always is."

Then, the night of Wake Lake, the annual seniors' bash, Romy's ex-best friend Penny disappears.  Romy leaves work and goes to Wake Lake too, waking up on the side of the road with "RAPE ME" written in red lipstick--her special color of lipstick--written across her pelvis.  She doesn't remember anything.  Was she really that drunk?  Why did she go?  What happened to Penny?  Penny, the golden girl?  Penny, who was perfect.  The cops organize fleets of officers to search the area.  Concerned citizens form task forces.  And kids at school cry and wail "in way they never would for me.  This is what happens when a girl befalls a fate no one thinks she deserves."

Tina, another popular girl, mocks Romy in the locker room, because it feels so good to inflict pain.  " 'So you think she was raped before she was in the water?'  Cold.  I'm cold.  I don't feel the floor under my feet, don't feel anything ... 'Come on, I want to hear it from you,' Tina says.  'What if she was?'  'Then she's better off dead."

Romy is a walking dead girl.  She's been killed multiple times: by the boy who raped her.  By the friends who abandoned her.  By the schoolmates who mock her.  By the adults who don't believe her. By a mother who couldn't protect her.  By a drunken father who left her the legacy of alcoholism and a bad name.

There's someone who makes her feel, though.  Leon, a guy who works at the diner with her.  He's kind.  He's smart.  He makes Romy feel like a human girl again, one who maybe could love someone.  But she's afraid.  She ends up pushing him away out of fear, and realizing that she causes pain because she suffers pain.  After a blow up, she says, "I don't know why he still cares.  What a stupid thing it is, to care about a girl."  And now I'm crying because so many girls feel that way.  Sometimes I feel that way--like I'm not worthy of being loved.  Why?  My family loves me.  I know that.  But deep inside, there's always this fear, I think, as a woman: what if he doesn't listen?  What if I say no and he doesn't listen?  He doesn't care who I am or what I think.  

Summers unwinds the plot like a trip wire, and her characters are so real that I think I've met them before.  Or I could, somewhere or sometime in the future.

Do you know what scared me the most when I finished this book?  It's that Romy got to tell her story, but untold girls out there don't or can't tell theirs.  They're still being silenced.  They're still being called whores and sluts and being told they deserved what happened to them.  And maybe they'll give up.  It's time for that to stop.

On the launch day of the book, April 14th, 2015, Summers encourages everyone to participate in a campaign to let girls know that they are heard and loved and believed.  It's called #tothegirls, and here's the link to her tumblr (she obviously explains it much better than I ever could).  I'm going to do it, and I'm going to get my friends and colleagues to do it as well.  Even if you don't post on social media, make sure you tell all the girls in your life that you love them.  That you believe them.  That they matter to you.  That they matter, full stop.

I love you, Romy Grey.  You matter to me.  I love you, Melinda Sordino.  You matter to me.  I love you, all the girls I talk to at the library.  You matter to me.  I love you, all the girls I don't know but who think that no one loves them.  I care about you because you are ... you.  You have a voice that must not be silenced, a voice that will say wonderful things.  #tothegirls, you matter.

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