Nothing is exactly as it appears.
The closer you look, the more you see.
This is a difficult book to read. And by that, I don’t mean that it’s poorly written, or full of cliches, or actually hard to read at all. What I mean is that this is a book about the rape of a young woman, and how a town responds to it. This is a book that puts a new spin on the Steubenville High School rape case from a few years ago.
In case you don’t remember, in Steubenville, a young girl was sexually assaulted at a party by several of her classmates. She was drunk. She was dressed provocatively. Witnesses says she had been flirting with the guys earlier that night. The perpetrators were members of the school’s star football team, young men who had a bright future ahead of them. They might have gotten full scholarships to good colleges if they hadn’t decided to rape their classmate. On camera. And distribute it for the world to see. In the Steubenville case, the town labeled the girl the villain. If she hadn’t been at that party, nothing would have happened. These boys would still have those bright futures ahead of them. It certainly wasn’t the fault of those who raped her. It was her fault for daring to go to a party.
Hartzler takes a good, hard look at that mentality in this book.
Stacey Stallard was just another girl at Coral Sands High School. A girl from the wrong side of town who had little parental supervision. She was known to flirt with lots of boys, and sometimes dated more than one boy at a time. She went to a lot of parties. Some students say she was an alcoholic. On the night in question, she’d been flirting with the boys from the basketball team. She’d come to the party wearing revealing clothes, and after a few drinks, she’d lost her top. When she passed out, she was taken down to the basement, where a number of boys on the basketball team raped her. The incident was filmed, photographed, and widely distributed throughout the school. Stacey filed charges against the boys, igniting a controversy in the town.
The book is narrated by Kate, a student at the high school who, back in middle school, was a friend of Stacey’s. But as time went on, and Kate joined the soccer team while Stacey joined the drill team, the two grew apart. Kate’s perspective is unique not only as a former friend of Stacey’s, but also because she is close friends with the boys. Her boyfriend is on the basketball team. She was at the party.
At times, it seems that Kate is the only person who really cares what happened that night. Most of the town blindly accepts the word of the boys. Those who don’t refuse to cause trouble by looking into it. Kate, though, can’t shake the feeling that something awful happened. That it could have happened to her or one of her friends. That a girl shouldn’t have to worry about being raped if she passes out at a friend’s party in the company of people she’s known her entire life.
This book opens a discussion into victim blaming, slut shaming, and misogyny:
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” says Christy. “It’s Stacey’s word against theirs. She’s accusing them.” … “Look, this is not rocket science. It’s common sense. If you don’t want to work a guy into a lather, keep your cooch covered up.”
“Why would Deacon and Dooney rape anybody?” he asks. “They can both have any girl they want. You saw Stacey hanging all over them at the party.”
“You heard Rachel’s ‘rules.’ If you learn what we learn here–that Dooney and all those guys are entitled to tell you if you’re pretty or not, that it’s up to you to make sure you don’t give boys a reason to hurt you? Then you don’t think it was a crime. You think what happened to Stacey was fair game. It was boys being boys. Just a trashy girl learning the hard way what can happen when she drinks too much and wears a short skirt.”
And it also opens a discussion into consent:
“What if she didn’t tell them no because she couldn’t?” Lindsey asks quietly. “What if she was too drunk to say anything?”
What does it mean to say yes? To consent to a kiss? To a touch? To more than that?
“Words have meanings. When we call something a theory in science, it means something. Reggie, when you say that you ‘can’t help yourself’ if a girl is wasted, that means something, too. You’re saying that our natural state as men is ‘rapist.’ That’s not okay with me, Reggie. That’s not okay with the rest of this class, either.”
This is a very important book that I think all teenagers should read. It forces you to examine your own opinions, your own biases, your own reactions to the news. Do we believe the victim? Do we side with the accused? Is a rapist innocent until proven guilty? Should we need to see video of the assault to believe that it happened?
Come to think of it, I think everybody should read this book. Not just teenagers. I think we could all stand to have our worldview challenged every once in a while.