Wednesday, January 4, 2017

DNF: Vigilante

Are vigilante books a new micro-trend in YA lit?  Don't get me wrong, I love a good vigilante story.  See: all the superhero comics ever for an example (except Spider-Man.  I strongly dislike Spider-Man.  He is a wuss).  It's funny how books with rather unique themes come out around the same time.  I think it's a bit unfair, since naturally, comparisons will be drawn.  However, in the case of Vigilante versus The Female of the Species, McGinnis' book is the clear winner.  Vigilante looks and feels, well, silly by comparison.



To be clear, this issue at hand in Vigilante--rape--is most certainly not silly.  It is very, very serious.  However, the manner in which Vigilante's main character, Hadley, deals with her best friend Magda's rape and suicide undermines the book's potential to be a talking point for many teens.

After being gang-raped at a party by the school's local posse of hot dudes, Magda has been a target for constant humiliation.  No one believes that she didn't want it--even when pictures of her body being violated turn up on the internet.  Even her best friend, Hadley, who helps her scrape the graffiti off her locker, assumes that Magda's rape was a result of making a "stupid decision."  It's too much.  It's too much to have an entire town against you.  And Magda feels like she doesn't have a choice.

A few months after Magda's suicide, Hadley starts her senior year alone.  She blames the four guys who raped Magda for her death, and will do anything to get revenge.  Feeling the need to be able to physically defend herself, Hadley learns aikido, and helps the police detective who worked on Magda's case start a self-defense course for girls.  The conversations between the girls at this class were simultaneously touching and brutal, and had the book continued in this vein, I would heartily recommend it.

But it doesn't.  Alas.  After posting a picture of Jason, one of Magda's rapists, passed out at a party with "rapist" written across his face in lipstick, Hadley revels in his humiliation.  And then she decides to take it even further.  Wearing a pink ski mask, she tracks and attacks the remaining three rapists, earning the moniker "the Pink Vigilante."

Wait, what?  Had I, as a four year old, been more inclined to play superhero than princess, Pink Vigilante is probably the name I would have come up with.  But in this story, it just sounds ridiculous and infantile. She prides herself on being a "stalker."

To make things even more awkward, Hadley is in love with Magda's older brother, Gabriel.  And now that Magda's dead, both of them feel ... better ... about pursuing each other.  Ugh, that is so wrong.  I feel skeeved out just writing it.  But for all of her talk about standing up for other girls and not being intimidated by guys, Hadley allows Gabriel to physically restrain her and threaten her after she attacks the second rapist.  Gabriel pins her to the wall and angrily tells her that she can't keep doing these things because she'll get hurt.  And then they have a sexy, sexy makeout session, because being threatened is ... romantic?  NO IT IS NOT.  This is a vortex of Unhealthy Relationships, and none of it is called out by any of the characters.  Even at the end, the legend of the Pink Vigilante lives on, as others literally take up the mantle (okay, fine, ski mask) and do vaguely illegal things to mete out the justice that the police can or will not.

There are also several prolonged, very intense assault scenes that serve little purpose in the narrative but for shock value.

This had the potential to explore how girls talk about rape, blame, and shame, but instead veered off into penny dreadful territory.  Alas.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.



3 comments:

  1. It's a shame this didn't work. There are so many real life cases where the local sports jocks gang rape a girl and she gets the blame. Can't remember the specific case, but the boys were on the local football team and were described as "fine young men" who were being persecuted by getting into trouble for what they'd done. The girl was blamed by the good folk of the town, because sportsmen can do what they want as long as they can kick a goal or win a race.

    There's a novel on the subject by Laurie Halse Anderson, can't recall the title, but I bet you know it.

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    1. Yep, Speak is one of my top ten teen books ever. There's a book by Courtney Summers called All the Rage that is very similar, thematically, to what happens in Vigilante, and it's completely harrowing.

      This reminds me of the Brock Turner Stanford rape case and how the media always calls him "former swimmer Brock Turner" and not "rapist, Brock Turner."

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    2. That was the book! I have it on my iPad and read it a while ago. LHA is terrific! Yes, it's infuriating the leeway given to men who happen to be good at sport. Sport is a religion in my country. If you want to study to be a doctor or a teacher or even a musician, you have debts to pay afterwards. Not as bad as in other countries, but still, bad enough. If you're good enough to get into the Australian Institute of Sport, it's all free. Admittedly not only male students. And after you've been somewhere and won at sport, you get a parade and a party and meet the Prime Minister or Premier. But footballers - they're worshipped. If they get into trouble, it's not about how they treat the women in their lives(known as WAGs, wives and girlfriends). It's about doing something unsportsmanlike. And female footballers have to have day jobs and practically run cake stalls to be able to play the sport they love. While men can make six figure sums for a season. The Australian women's rugby team is one of the top in the world, but gets very little recognition, while the men's team - much further down the ladder - gets all the support.

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