Showing posts with label rape. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rape. Show all posts

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Asking For It by Kate Harding


Rating: WORTHY!

The problem with this book is that the people who need most to read it will not, and if they mistakenly happen upon it, they will dismiss it as "more feminist propaganda". It's an uncomfortable experience to read it, but I think people need to read it until they get beyond discomfort and get downright angry that this crap not only goes on in 2015, but that it evidently doesn't even cause widespread outrage. The problem is that when people are talking about "rape-rape" (like it's a baby topic that no real grown-ups waste their time with), or about "legitimate rape" or about "the rape thing", then you know as well as I do that despite recent progress, there's still a hell of a long way to go. That's what's disturbing.

What also outraged me is that this didn't show up in the first page of results on Goodreads. Asking For It it is evidently a really poorly-chosen title because Goodreads showed over 500 screens of titles that were triggered when I typed that in. Even when I typed in the author's name it was second in a long list! The title is even one in a fictional series, which reportedly attempts to retro-justify rape - because she liked it in the end. What the hell kind of a fantasy that is, and how dangerous is it? That's rape culture in all its shabby glory.

The book explores the topic of rape in civilian and in military life, and how rape culture (which the author defines) enables rapists and does serious injustice to those who are raped, to the point where those who have gone through this horror can be even more victimized by the aftermath than they were by the original atrocity itself. Even to the point where survivors have subsequently been charged with a crime - essentially charged with the 'crime' of reporting it!

That's not to say it was all plain sailing. I had some issues with the way this was written. For example, the author does explore the wider implications of a rape culture, but nowhere near enough for me, and in nowhere near enough detail, especially for a book that is specifically about the rape culture rather than specifically cases of rape. She covers, for example, the absurd clamoring of celebrities to support other celebrities - such as those who came out for rapist Roman Polansky who ostensibly couldn't distinguish between a thirteen-year-old and a consenting adult, and others like Bill Cosby and people from other celebrity ventures like the sporting world where victims aren't even given a sporting chance in popular reporting.

Having said that, she fails to address the wider picture (except briefly in passing, and tangentially) of the whole culture we live in - the movies, the video games, the comic books, the novel, the TV shows. Yes, she briefly covers some of them, but briefly isn't sufficient in a book like this which is supposedly aimed at this very problem. Rape culture isn't just rape victims getting a raw deal and rapists getting a good deal - it's the entire ethos of how women are treated and viewed in society and I felt this got short shrift.

Another issue I personally had is that the author's tone felt a bit preachy and strident at times and thereby at risk of undermining a really strong case. In this kind of environment, lists didn't help as much as they ought, and her love of lists to me was counter-productive to her aim. I'm not a fan of lists and regimented structures because life is neither, and neither are personal interactions except in crappy rom-coms. Once you start relying on a fixed list, you're in danger of missing things that are important but have failed to make the "official list". One list which I felt which was particularly confusing at best was the first one, on page 14. Clearly the author fully expects us to answer "No", but the lists are full of ambiguity which, to someone who is not clued in (and no rapist is, by definition) is going to miss, or misinterpret.

This goes to what I've been saying about taking wise precautions, and about making a "No" quite clear. Yes, lack of clear consent means no, that's a given, and yes, even a clear and unequivocal no has indeed failed to stop rapists, but given the pervasiveness of rape culture, a lack of a clear "No!" has also been used to try to muddy the waters in rape cases. A clear "No!" will cut that off at the knees. Remember, we are not dealing with an ideal society here. We're not even dealing with a rational one, much less a victim-friendly one. Here we're dealing with one which facilitates criminals getting away with rape the bulk of the time. You simply cannot play fair in that environment. You're a fool if you think you can hold out any hope that a rapist will be reasonable, considerate, nuanced, decent, or amenable to argument or persuasion.

I'm not even sure what the author was trying to demonstrate, but let's look at the list:

  1. I'd love to, but I already have plans.
  2. Sweet of you to offer, but I'm afraid I won't be able to make it.
  3. Oh geez, maybe another time?
  4. I so wish I could!

Not one of these actually says no (not that this means 'yes', understand!). If you're sensitive, which rapists are not, you will suspect that this person does not want to be involved with you, but even so you may feel free to ask again at some point, because you want to be sure, and because the answers equivocated at best and invited a "return match" at worst. Indeed, three of them say the opposite of no: "I'd love to", "Maybe another time?", and "I so wish I could!". Einstein is often quoted as saying something along the lines of "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war," which is nonsensical, but it's that kind of approach which is being pursued here. Rather than give an unequivocal "No!", the person in question here has offered what might well be seen as an "invitation" to further predation from those who are given to viewing women as prey and are blind to subtlety. Even those who are not predators are at risk of being thoroughly confused by such ambiguous answers.

If you have no intention of becoming involved with a guy, you do not say you'd love to! You do not offer another (what may be seen as an) opportunity to stalk you. You do not utter wishes that you could be together. You do not use the word "afraid" in your response. You say "No!" It's better to be perceived as rude than to offer what a potential pest at best and rapist at worst will see as weakness, equivocation, or invitation.

If you like, you can soften it with "I'm involved with someone" or "I don't want to be involved with anyone here" or whatever, but don't omit the clear "No!". Having given that, you are in no doubt as to whether you "encouraged" someone, and neither are they - if they are even remotely reasonable. If the worst happens, you will be confident you made it crystal clear that your answer was no, and you will not be haunted with concern that you somehow "encouraged" this guy. Rape is god-awful enough without bringing self-doubt and self-recrimination into it, on top of whatever other horrors you're going through.

On this same topic, it bothered me that on some occasions the author appeared to be disparaging rape prevention advice and campaigns by presenting an anecdote which "proved" all the advice was wrong. Yes, in an ideal society, women should not have to do these things. It's reprehensible that they're forced into this position, but the fact is that we do not live in an ideal society, and we're a long - probably impossible, I'm sorry to say - way from ever getting there, so until and unless we do live in that ideal society, the advice isn't wrong and people are foolish not to take it and follow it.>/p>

It's like saying that it's foolish to wear a seat belt, because there are some occasions where the seat belt has been the problem - the victim died anyway, or the seat belt trapped them in the car. Indeed, I was once trapped in the back seat of a car fortunately not due to an accident, but because the car was old and the seat belt was shitty. We had to find some scissors and cut me out! Did I give up wearing seat belts because of this fail? Absolutely not. This doesn't mean that a victim who has failed to take this advice is the problem and no crime has been committed. Far from it. There has still been a crime and the victim's lack of forethought isn't a mitigating circumstance by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how hard the police or the commanding officer, or courts might dishonestly pretend it is - because of this rape culture. But there are nonetheless ways in which, regardless of whether we're talking about rape or any other crime, you can endeavor protect yourself from harm and it's just plain stupid not to heed them.

They're not guaranteed, by any means, and they will at times fail despite the best efforts, but on balance, they will make women and men safer, and this author's single-minded focus on the need to address the rapist problem, not the victim non-problem, commendable and accurate as that approach is, did a disservice to prevention in a society where it is a real a present danger, as they say. It's this evident inability on the author's part to separate the wheat from the chaff which for me weakened the message she was bringing - a message which is long overdue.

By that I don't mean it invalidated it, but I think it served to tint water which could have been clearer. For example, I would have liked to have seen the author outright condemn binge-drinking for an assortment of reasons, but because her focus was solely on rape, she tended to gloss over this problem because, it seemed to me, she felt it took away from her message that even if the person who was raped was drunk, she was still the victim of a crime and this does not mitigate the rapist's criminal behavior. This is unarguably true to anyone with half a functioning brain, which rapists and anyone else who buys into the rape culture quite evidently doesn't have, but more instead of addressing the real and unarguable issue

In the same vein, I would have liked her to have talked about educating men not to be criminals rather than zero in on the narrow field of educating them not to be rapists. That needs to be a distinct and pronounced part of such an education, but there needs to be a wider focus.

There are also issues with the prevalence of rape, which I admit is a doomed thing to try and calculate given how little of it goes reported because of the very fact that we do live in a rape culture. Numbers are tossed around without very much verification, so we end up with a one in five or a one in four number which then becomes folklore without anyone going back to see how that number was arrived at in the first place. Lisak's 2002 study was evidently flawed. We can see how hazy the numbers are by looking at this article on the Drew Sterrett / CB "affair" which is well covered by the author. "...a reported sexual assault rate of 0.03 percent" Even multiplied by ten that's a far cry from one in five.

The Sterret case is interesting not only in and of itself, but also because it makes it clear that not all cases of rape (or in this case alledged rape) are about power. This one clearly was not. And neither is the power always with the guy - in this case the power to ruin his life was clearly in his supposed victim's hands.

In a 1996 study, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina set out to determine the rape-related pregnancy rate in the United States. They estimated that about 5 percent of rape victims of reproductive age (12 to 45) become pregnant — a percentage that results in about 32,000 pregnancies each year. If 5% become pregnant and that's 32,000 per year, it's an atrocity, but that's not what I want to address here. Multiplying that 32K by 20, should give us 100% of rape victims, which is 640,000 annual rapes. Even one is too many but over half a million is phenomenal and shocking beyond polite words.<.p>

Reading elsewhere, we get this number: "...there were overall 173,610 victims of rape or sexual assault, or 0.1% of the US population 12 or older in 2013". That's a far cry from 640,000, unless of course 466,390 failed to report the crime - but that's entirely possible. Elsewhere still, we learn that according to RAIIN, every 107 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. There is a yearly average of 293,000 victims we're told, but a rape every 107 seconds comes to 294,729. This is good enough to fall in with that average, but it's a far cry from either 640,000 or 173,610.

My point is not to belittle the magnitude of the numbers, which regardless of which number is most accurate, are appalling, but to point out that the numbers vary wildly, and this is the kind of thing which will be the very one that nay-sayers latch upon to try to call "the rape thing" into question. Look," they will claim, "they're making wild guesses! No one knows, clearly they're making this all up as a scare tactic!" Obviously that's blind nonsense, but that doesn't mean that it would not help to get better, more reliable numbers, because quoting poorly substantiated or discrepant numbers isn't going to do anyone any favors. A look, in this book, at the accuracy and sources of the numbers would have been appreciated, and while the author touches on this more than once, she never really pursues it as a legitimate topic in its own right. We do not want to give those who would continue to try and sweep this rape culture pandemic under the carpet any ammunition even if they're firing blanks.

I like that the author covers the fact that while the overwhelming number of rapes is indeed male on female, rape isn't just male on a female. It's very much cross-gender despite the British rather Victorian idea that girls can't rape guys. I liked the discussion of the focus on college versus focus on 'civilian' rape, but this was a relatively short book and the author obviously could not go into great detail on every topic. Focus on college is important, but in one way it's a bit of a mis-focus because college female students are only about half as likely as non-college females of the same age range to be affected by violence:
http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-sexual-assault-legal-20140608-story.html
http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2014/11/07/after-uwc-complaint-two-students-wait/
That doesn't mean it's not a problem, by any means, but it does mean we can be smarter, use better resources, and be more effective across all areas, instead of focusing on one and pretending we're addressing the problem.

I like that the author called into question some of the at best ill-advised, and at worst, situation-exacerbating ad campaigns aimed at reducing rape, but done in a wrong-headed manner. The problem isn't so much those, however, as the very effective ad campaigns which are aimed in the opposite direction, and which flood our senses throughout our lives almost subliminally. Indeed, they are so pervasive and so common and so readily available that we don't even consider them, much less talk about them.

This is why, for me, where this book most fell down is in its almost complete failure to address the far more widespread, and often very subtle rape culture problem: that which shamelessly pervades TV, advertising, movies, and literature. The author did cover, briefly and in a limited way, some movies and some TV, and even took a very small dip into advertising, but nowhere near enough. In my opinion, it's in these areas that rape culture is seeded, because it is all-pervasive and it hits men and women alike from childhood. Note that I am not saying here that some guy watches a TV show or sees a commercial, and suddenly is filled with the idea that he can simply go out and rape him some women! It doesn't work like that. But when you have, for example in movies, been subjected to a lifetime of stories where the tough hombre battles the odds and is rewarded with the helpless "chick" every time, a "babe" (not the infantilization in play here) who pretty much literally falls into his arms, a wilting violet subservient to his every command, it's not hard to see that this cultivates a mind-set which takes only a weak will not to act upon.

Every time I'm in the grocery store waiting at the check out line, I'm bombarded with a host of magazines aimed at women, and what do all of these magazines have on the covers? Curiously enough, semi-naked woman. What text do the covers most often carry? Something about sex, about improving your technique, making yourself sexier, spicing things up, and on and on. I rarely stand at the check-out without seeing at least one mention of sex on the cover of at least one magazine. These are magazines that used to cover the model's head with the magazine title, as if to make it clear that only her body was of interest - you can safely ignore the mind. Only a professional idiot (aka a rapist) would view this as a guide to your average woman's mind-set and inclinations, but if you're one of the idiots, this tells you quite unequivocally that women want sex, they're desperate for it, they crave it, they need someone to deliver it to their open door. That's all the "consent" a rapist needs.

These magazines, to me, are more abusive to women than actual pornography is, because they are much more pernicious and sly, and they're everywhere. TV and movies send the same message - a message that a woman is only waiting for the right man and she;ll hop right into bed and the hell with worrying about STDs. Books are just as bad, especially the ones showing a woman in a state of undress with a manly man on the cover, and even more-so, ill-conceived and misguided young adult novels. The worst of those are ones which purport to deliver a strong female character the main protagonist, yet almost inevitably have this character wilt and take second place when a man shows up, as though she's really quite weak, if not outright incompetent, by herself and in truth needs a man to whip her into shape. All of this contributes to a comprehensive and overwhelming, if seriously deluded, view of women. I find ti a bit sad that this author who does so well in other areas, barely mentions these areas, if at all.

Overall though, despite some issues (one of which is the author's unilateral declaration that couples in happy long-term relationships are pretty much rapists if they wake their partner up by means of foreplay!) this book is well-written, well-researched, and full of useful, needfully disturbing, information and I unreservedly I recommend it.

Here's an addendum based on a recent report, which cast previous figures into doubt - so once again we're stuck with the problem of which numbers can be relied on and how the hell we get any kind of handle on a problem which we evidently cannot measure reliably! These numbers were here:
http://www.aau.edu/Climate-Survey.aspx?id=16525

KEY FINDINGS

*Overall, 11.7 percent of student respondents across 27 universities reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation since they enrolled at their university.

*The incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation among female undergraduate student respondents was 23.1 percent, including 10.8 percent who experienced penetration.

*Overall rates of reporting to campus officials and law enforcement or others were low, ranging from five percent to 28 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior.

*The most common reason for not reporting incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct was that it was not considered serious enough. Other reasons included because they were "embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult," and because they "did not think anything would be done about it."

*More than six in 10 student respondents (63.3 percent) believe that a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct would be taken seriously by campus officials.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Girl Who Played With Fire Adapted by Denise Mina


Title: The Girl Who Played With Fire
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: DC Comics (Warner Bros)
Rating: WORTHY!

Art by Andrea Mutti, Antonio Fuso, and Leonardo Manco.
Colors by Giulia Brusco and Patricia Mulvihill, and Lee Loughridge.
Letters by Steve Wands.

I already reviewed this novel so what's up here? Well I originally read this in print book form. Later, I listened to it in audio book form, so now it's only right that I check out the graphic novel too, right?! That's why this review is shorter than I normally write. I'm not going into any details of the plot since I've been there and done that, and you can get those from my original review. This review is all about the graphic side of things.

The graphic novel again relates Steig Larsson's original story faithfully and while there's just as much violence in this volume, there's no sex at all worth the mention. I don't know why, but the art work here didn't grab me like it did in the first two volumes. I was nowhere near as fond of the rendering of Lisbeth here as I was in the previous outing, but the art was very workman-like and got a complex job done. It just didn't leave quite the same pleasant taste the previous material did. One notable exception (illustrated on my blog) was the full page rendition of Lisbeth's dragon tattoo, which I thought was really good.

The lettering felt better in this one than in the previous volumes, and it seemed a better reading experience to me for that. Maybe I was just more used to it this time after reading two previous volumes? On this topic, I was amused where we saw one frame of a report which was actually information about a software license, but imaged with the lettering backwards! Later we get a news report, but if you look at it. It consists of the same paragraph repeated over and over again.

We do get to meet a member of the Evil Fingers punk band which is mentioned in the book, and which is now a group of female friends who are close - as close, that is, as Lisbeth would ever let anyone get. Lisbeth was never in the band since she's tone deaf, but she was part of the post-band gatherings. It doesn't specify the name of the band member who is interviewed. We know it's not lead singer Cilla Norén, unless she's changed her hair completely and lost a lot of weight, yet that's the band member whom officer Faste interviewed in the novel.

So, to sum up, I didn't like this quite as much as I liked the first book (which was in two parts), but I still think it's a worthy contribution to the canon. I am looking forward to, and hoping for, the third volume to be completed.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Part 2 Adapted by Denise Mina


Title: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Part 2
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: DC Comics (Warner Bros)
Rating: WORTHY!

Art by Andrea Mutti and Leonardo Manco.
Colors by Giulia Brusco and Patricia Mulvihill.
Letters by Steve Wands and Lee Bermejo.

I already reviewed this novel so what's up here? Well I originally read this in print book form. Later, I listened to it in audio book form, so now it's only right that I check out the graphic novel too, right?! That's why this review is shorter than I normally write. I'm not going into any details of the plot since I've been there and done that, and you can get those from my original review. This review is all about the graphic side of things.

Again, as with volume one, I was impressed with this. Denise Mina's writing covered everything of import, but also kept the pace tight. Steve Wands's and Lee Bermejo's lettering was nothing spectacular, and a bit on the small side. Obviously you can't hide the image under large blocks of text, but for me, and especially in this era of e-comics, lettering is nearly always a too small. I was glad I read this in print form as opposed to on an e-pad. What impressed me were Giulia Brusco's and Patricia Mulvihill's colors and Andrea Mutti's and Leonardo Manco's art work which continued the same standard set in volume one. The covers were excellent in quality, but as I mentioned in the review of volume 1 thought that the cover for part 2 didn't capture Lisbeth Salander. The face was wrong, somehow. The interior artwork captured her magically.

The hilariously squeamish depictions of nudity continued. I found it curious that there were no-holds-barred when it came to violence, but that genitalia were deemed too horrific to show! One of the most important scenes - the rape of Lisbeth Salander, was glossed over a little too conveniently. We get the full gloory of the headless cat, with its bloody entrails all over, yet a central event of the brutal rape of a woman is deemed inappropriate?

Nothing overt was depicted except blood and strongly implied violence. A sheet strategically covered her butt crack afterwards. Seriously? If you're going to show the violence, then show it, don't blow it. If all you feel you can show is blood spatter, then don't show anything. This part made no sense because it robbed Lisbeth of the full horror of her torture. I didn't get the point of a graphic novel that's inconsistently graphic! Why the artist would baulk at that, and not at blood spray and cat entrails is weird to me.

That gripe aside, I really liked this overall, and I recommend it. I'm certainly going to buy it if I get a chance.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Part 1 Adapted by Denise Mina


Title: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Part 1
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: DC Comics (Warner Bros)
Rating: WORTHY!

Art by Andrea Mutti and Leonardo Manco.
Colors by Giulia Brusco and Patricia Mulvihill.
Letters by Steve Wands and Lee Bermejo.

I already reviewed this novel so what's up here? Well I originally read this in print book form. Later, I listened to it in audio book form, so now it's only right that I check out the graphic novel too, right?! That's why this review is shorter than I normally write. I'm not going into any details of the plot since I've been there and done that, and you can get those from my original review. This review is all about the graphic side of things.

So I was very impressed with this work. It's been somewhat updated from the original novel to include smart phones, for example, but otherwise is faithful to it. Denise Mina's adaptation was sparse but covered everything that was important, and kept the story moving at a clip. Steve Wands's and Lee Bermejo's lettering was pretty much boiler-plate comic book, so there was nothing there to praise. On the downside, lettering is nearly always a little too small for my taste, especially if you're trying to read it on a screen, such as an iPad. I'm glad I read this in actual print form. It would have been annoying on a pad. What impressed me were Giulia Brusco's and Patricia Mulvihill's colors and Andrea Mutti's and Leonardo Manco's art work. Both were excellent for my taste and really brought the story to life. The covers were excellent in quality, but I thought that the part 2 cover really didn't capture Lisbeth Salander. The face was wrong, somehow. The interior artwork captured her magically.

I was amused by the depictions of nudity (and almost every eligible female gets nude in this graphic novel, even young Harriet, whereas only one guy does). The amusement came from the apparent squeamishness of the artists to depict genitals and butt cracks! I've never understood this, especially when violence is depicted without a single thought to covering it up! Are we to understand from this that our society believes that looking at something sensuous and beautiful is verboten, whereas violence is cool?>/p>

To me breasts are far more out there, provocative and 3D, than ever female genitals are, so what's with the shyness? We got mammaries a-go-go, but whenever there was any danger of a vulva heaving into view, there was always something in the way: panties, or a judiciously draped sheet reminiscent of the wispy gauze which inexplicably floated around in classical paintings of nudes. The same applies to male genitalia.

So, overall, I highly recommend this - especially if you haven't read the original. It's a great introduction to the first novel of the trilogy, but the cost, I have to say is pretty steep. It's forty dollars for both of the volumes which make up the first novel, so you might want to get this from your library before you decide to buy, or look for it used. I would definitely like to buy these two.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry


Title: All the Truth That's in Me
Author: Julie Berry
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Rating: WARTY!

Read on average by Kathleen McInerney

This is quite possible the worst novel that I've ever heard. It's most certainly one of the most mind-numbingly boring, pointless, tedious, vague and vacuous drivel-laden stories that it's ever been my misfortune to encounter.

The story takes place in Puritan times (which explains a lot, but nowhere near enough) four years after Judith disappeared with her best friend. The bad news is that Judith has now returned, sans tongue but with her obsessive-compulsive disorder in order. Now she's a stalker, spying on this guy over whom she constantly obsesses, like a paranoid queen cat with only one kitten.

Juditz is so shallow, weak, boring, and vacuous that her every and only thought is about him and only him, her not-so-beau aka Lukewarm. Worse than that, it's addressed to him, as though she's yelling, "Luke at me! I have something unimportant to say!" It's a story he quite obviously already knows for the most part. How flatulent is that? Can you imagine how tedious it would be to have to sit next to a love-struck thirteen-year-old on the subway and all she can do is bend your tired ear with her plans to stalk this guy with whom she's become irremediably obsessed? Yeah, like that. Does Julie Berry not know how much the diametric opposite of romantic it is to have one person stalk another? I guess not.

First person PoV is a tired trope that needs to die a long-deserved and way-the-hell overdue death, and with precious few exceptions. Some writers can carry it, but Berry cannot, unless by 'carry it' you mean hike it onto your shoulder and bounce it until its back is comprehensively broken. She makes a bad story worse by writing in this way, so it;s hardly a surprise that it was nominated for a butt-load of pretentious 'literature' medals.

The book's blurb (and we all know how much they love to lie) says, "This startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you". Well yeah, it did, in how bad it is. The blurb says, "it will fill you with Judith’s passion and longing". Well no, it turned me right off so quickly that I was skipping track after track on disk one (which makes it potentially dangerous if you're listening to it in the car!), trying to find something to which you can listen whilst still keeping your breakfast down.

Stalking doesn't fill me with passion. Dysfunctional doesn't endear me. The blurb says, "its mysteries will keep you feverishly turning the pages until the very last". Well I was feverishly 'turning pages" but only because each one in turn was so brain-deadeningly tedious that I couldn't stand to listen to it! WARTY!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Broken Beauty by Lizzy Ford





Title: Broken Beauty
Author: Lizzy Ford
Publisher: Indie Inked
Rating: worthy


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is less detailed so as not to rob the writer of their story, but even so, it will probably still be more in-depth than you'll typically find elsewhere!

Broken Beauty was a bad choice for the title of this novel. There are at least two other books with precisely that title, at least seven novels titled "Beautifully Broken" and one called "The Beauty of Broken...", as well as one called "A Broken Kind of Beautiful...", and so on! Let this be a lesson to authors to research not only your subject, but also your title! I have to question why the "Beauty" part was even relevant. Would this be less of a horrifying story if the woman to whom it happened had been a "plain jane"? I don't think so. The other bad news is that this isn't a complete novel. It's "Broken Beauty Novellas #1", and so is short, but not en suite. Wikipedia defines a novella as at least 17,500 words:

Novel over 40,000 words
Novella 17,500 to 40,000
Novelette 7,500 to 17,500
Short story under 7,500

I don't have a word count to see where this technically falls on that scale, but I'm fine with taking the author's word for it! This time!

This series is in a way an emulation of Stephen King's The Green Mile which was published in six installments in 1996. For me personally, I'd rather get the whole thing at once, but who knows, maybe Ford is onto something here? I mean, who knows what ebooks are going to do in the long-run? I think it's far too early to call. Maybe going backwards to go forwards is where it will lead, and we'll see more novels published like this, ultimately emulating serials like Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories which were published in installments in The Strand magazine.

There's something weird going on with the text in this egalley. There are sections of the text where it changes randomly from black to grey. I have no idea what's causing that. That is to say, it's not like it's flashing or changing as I read it, it's just that some paragraphs are dark and some not, some screens have it, some don't, and it nearly always starts at the commencement of a paragraph, very rarely in the middle of one, but it doesn't appear to be tied to anything like an internal monologue, or to where maybe there should have been italics. Weird! It's a bit annoying, but this is a short novel, so it's not a big deal. My Kindle says I have a little over 90 minutes of reading in total.

The title page and cover both list this as written by 'Lizzy Ford writing as Chloe Adams'. I do not get this 'writing as' crap. This was written by Lizzy Ford as far as I'm concerned. There's a limit to how far I'm willing to allow the fiction to extend beyond the boundaries of chapter one (going towards the front cover), and the last chapter (going towards the back)! I think it's an insult to readers for a writer to change their name in order to sell other books or write in other genres. I don't want to be a party to that, but that's not going to influence my review of the story itself.

This novel is about the aftermath of the rape of Mia Abbot-Renou, the young-adult daughter of a Southern US politician - the self-same politician who has claimed that pregnancy cannot result from rape because the woman's body shuts it down. A similar asinine and clueless claim was actually made in real life by Republican congressman Todd Akin, so kudos to Ford for slipping that in. Akin asserted "...If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down..." - implying that anyone who gets pregnant from rape really wasn't raped since they consented, even if they think they didn't! The pregnancy proves it! What an asshole. If he'd said that in front of me, he'd likely end up with a name-change to Tod Akin-Balls...!

The story begins with Mia being picked up by the cops and taken to a hospital where the relevant examinations are carried out. Mia is scared and only feels safe if she can see one of the two cops, Keisha and Dom, who initially responded to the crime report. Just in passing, do you know there apparently isn't a police 10-xx code for rape - or for assault or GBH?! Go figure. OTOH, they have at least four codes for motor vehicle issues - just in case you're not crystally clear on where our priorities lie as a society in the USA. But then car dealerships are always better lit than are residential neighborhoods, so why am I even surprised by this?! In a really disturbing WTF moment, neither Mia's mother, who is in rehab, nor her father, who is at a fundraiser, can be bothered to visit their daughter in the hospital - and her father is bothered about spinning this event?!

We learn from internal monologue that Mia was a virgin, and from her examination that she was injured rather badly physically (as well as mentally), as a result of this assault, and she's really confused, her mind wandering, flashes of the attack mingling with non-sequitur memories (triggered by the resemblance - in small ways - of one of the cops to her grandfather). Why the virginity issue is raised I do not know. Does Ford want me to believe that the rape was worse solely because the victim was a virgin as opposed to her being a hooker or a "housewife", for example? Bullshit! Rape is rape. It doesn't get any worse.

The opening sequence was in some ways annoying because it was so discontinuous, so if Ford was trying to make me uncomfortable, she succeeded, but I'm not sure she succeeded in making me discomfited about the right things or in the right way! However, it is, in general, well written and it drew me in, so despite some nit-picking issues, one of which I'm about to launch into, that was a good start.

Once Mia has had all her medical attention, it's the next day before the two cops get to sit down with her and she eventually identifies one Robert Connor and his friend as her two rapists. There's a suggestion of the possible use of Flunitrazepam or a similar substance employed in her drink to help perpetrate this rape, but before their investigation can get very far, the family lawyer (who is also Mia's uncle) and a PR guy show up trying to spin this "event" (they really don't seem to want to call it a rape, much less identify the son of one of their leading financial contributors as the rapist). They also plan to whisk her out of the hospital and put her under the care of another family friend who is a therapist. This is horrible, but it's a disturbingly fascinating story.

I had my biggest issue with this "whisking-out" of Mia. We're told she has to be sneaked out of the hospital via a side-door because the press is flocking to the front entrance. Why? Not why is she sneaked out, why is the press there? This happened just the night before, so unless the police have deliberately and purposefully broadcast the gut-churning details of this rape, including the victim's name, and also the crime-scene and hospital photographs of her battered body, how in hell did anyone find out about it? I was jerked bodily out of suspension of disbelief by that because I cannot find it even remotely plausible that this information would get out so fast, much less be deliberately released by the police or the hospital. There would be serious lawsuits flying in formation if information like this was released.

I suspect that Ford did this to further put Mia on the hot-spot, but I could not see that happening realistically. What happened was horrific enough without piling on events which stretch credibility beyond breaking point. But given that clunker, the story improves from there on out. It does lead to Mia being isolated from the police while her father's people try to spin this, which in turn leads to Mia having to read "her" prepared statement to the press where she's passing on not her own words but those of her father's lawyer.

Mia becomes completely isolated from real life as she's forced repeatedly to retreat to her bedroom closet to escape panic attacks and flashbacks as everyone tries to manage, contain, and control this "unfortunate event". Even her therapist is a distant relative. Her best friend comes over to support her and pretty much moves in. Somehow Mia is prosecuted for her unknowing use of a stolen ID, and via a plea-bargain she conveniently gets to do 100 hours of community service in a women's shelter helpfully run by the sister of the cop who, I'm guessing, is going to be the trope love interest, as disgusting as that seems at this point. It's at the shelter that Mia learns that she's pregnant (her father had denied her the morning-after pill because, you know, rape victims cannot possibly become pregnant...).

So it looks like I'm going to rate this warty, doesn't it? Actually I'm not. I had some real issues with it, but those parts which were not issue-ridden were actually engrossing, and did keep my interest. Like I said, I would prefer it if this were just one complete novel instead of installments, but that's the author's choice. Maybe I'll wait to read the rest when it all comes between one pair of covers, though? I rate this one worthy because people need to read about this, and they need to be made so uncomfortable by stories like these that something is done about this unconscionable crime and the even more horrific frequency of it.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley






Title: Pretty Girl-13
Author: Liz Coley
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Rating: WORTHY!

Well I'm in love with Liz Coley, and I've only just started this one! This novel impressed me from the off, so I am thrilled to be on my third novel in a row to which I find I can warm up. I love this title which translates to PG-13(!), but this book is a disturbing book, especially after the very recent revelation (at the time I'm writing this) of the three brothers who abducted three teen-aged girls and held them for a decade. I don’t know how anyone can come back from that, but it's heartening that people do. At least those women were not tortured and left in shallow graves; that is they weren't tortured physically in the commonly understood sense. They were very much tortured emotionally and psychologically, and that's more than probably worse.

In this fictional account (perhaps rooted in fact? I don’t know, but I'm going by Coley's dedication: For J, who survived) Angela Gracie Chapman was abducted from summer camp when she was thirteen. No one ever discovered what had happened to her. Now she's sixteen and "wakes up" walking down the street towards her home. Her parents almost go into shock; they're also victims of this crime.

The detective who was on the case arrives quickly and she's subject to the indignity of having to go to the hospital for a rape examination by a male doctor. Nowhere is there a social worker, psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist of any appropriate kind available. I find that hard to believe - unless the hospital she was taken to was truly second rate. She can’t get such an appointment until the next afternoon.

Meanwhile, the nurse keeps calling her 'sweetie', which doesn’t seem to bother Angela in her 13-year-old state, but I definitely feel like I want to catch that nurse upside her condescending head for it. Angela blacks out for a few minutes when the doctor examines her vagina and no one seems to see this, not even Angela - not properly. Hopefully the psychiatrist will latch onto that. From her physical state, it's clear she has been manacled and held prisoner for the intervening three years, and from her mental state, it’s clear that she dissociated herself from what was happening and walled it off in order to try and cope with the horror of it, which accounts for the "amnesia" (yes, in quotes- more on this anon!).

She has flashbacks in a different person to things she did or things from which she was protected by dissociation. Her thirteen year old self did not know how to cook, but her sixteen year old self seems to have that knowledge hidden away somewhere. She's very strong for her size, and her hands are calloused, like she did hard work, but she cannot recall it. When she woke up that day on her own street, she carried a bag with clothes and a shiv. She recalls none of what that means.

Her immediate problem right then is that she still thinks she's thirteen and expects to be treated like that, but her dad won't even hold her hand. She can barely handle the knowledge that she's actually sixteen and the world has moved on three years while she was on hold like some kid's forgotten DVD. She can hardly stand to look at her face in the mirror which looks so different from her mental image of herself. Her favorite clothes don’t fit and her body seems like it belongs to someone else. It’s ironic that someone, someone with very piercing dark eyes, she half-recalls, "borrowed" her, and now she feels like she's borrowing someone else. Since her clothes are annoyingly useless, she goes with her mom to the mall to buy fresh, and is outraged by the prices. She buys very little, but later, she finds something in the bag that evidently her alter ego (or one of them!) lifted from the store without her (Angela's) knowledge. The fact that she lets this go without even analyzing it is portentous.

The psychologist, Lynn Grant seems very much on the ball. I was impressed with her first meeting with Angela. It was very well written. She failed to address what might happen if a media circus surrounds Angela, which I thought was an awful omission, but When Angela awakens from what she thought was a few minutes of hypnosis, she learns from Grant that she was "out" for a half hour, and Grant was talking to another personality called Girl Scout, not to Angela at all, and Girl Scout is very worried about Angela.

Angela has to fight her parents a bit to get what she feels she needs. Her father is being completely dumb about this, not understanding Angela at all, and her mother wants her to get back to normal. Her mother accidentally reveals that she's pregnant, and what with that and reading her mother's scrapbook that she started after Angela's disappearance, Angela is now half under the impression that her folks gave up on her and moved on, and that she's shortly to be replaced with the new baby. In the end, bolstered by Grant's agreement, Angela determines that she should go back to school, but start in ninth grade because she knows she has catching up to do, but not that much.

On her first day at school in her first class, she's recognized by a girl called Maggie, who takes Angela under her wing and surrounds her with supportive classmates who vow to help her catch up on school-work. That part is hilarious, and delightfully written. The potential problem starts as she's leaving at the end of the day, and she runs into her old friends from when she was thirteen: her "boyfriend" Greg, and one of her two girlfriends, Livvie. She has refrained from calling them because she felt really weird about it, and so young compared with them, given that she feels paused at thirteen.

She goes back with them to Greg's house and apparently does not realize the importance of calling her folks, who seem remarkably lax about her exposure and vulnerability in traveling to and from school given that she's an abduction victim. There seems to be no concern for her at all that her abductor might want to "re-acquire" her, or that the media might make her life hell once they learn of her return. She's reassured to see that Greg and Livvie still view her as a close friend, but she's surprised that they no longer hang out with the third of their foursome who evidently became a school pariah when she ratted them out for having a kegger. No one speaks to her any more. The immediate feeling I got after reading this was that Angela is probably going to end up seeking her out.

She seems to still have the hots for Greg, which she did at thirteen, but it does seems a bit awkward to me. It’s definitely an exceptional and forgivable case of instadore! I get the feeling that maybe all will not turn out well between them. But something goes very bad elsewhere, and unexpectedly so. Her favorite uncle comes to visit her and they go for a walk. Suddenly it's night and Angela is home and cannot recall the last several hours. Eventually she figures this out as one of her personalities surfaces for the first time - the one that took over every time she was raped by her captor.

This same personality tells her that her uncle has been abusing her for years, every since he began babysitting her. She became so agitated by it that she zoned out and this new personality, which she knows as 'The Slut' takes over. This is the personality which has been buying the exotic underwear and which puts on make up much more boldly than Angela ever would. It's also the personality that came out in the back seat of Greg's car one morning when he was supposedly giving her a ride to school. He took her for a ride sure enough.

Angela's personalities have begun frothing to the top as her therapy sessions continue, and she finally volunteers for an experimental treatment using gene therapy which is aimed at blocking the ability of specific neurons to communicate, which the doctor in charge of the study thinks will effectively kill Angela's alter egos. In order to do this, they have to map her brain using a CAT scan, while Dr. Grant brings out each personality one by one. Unfortunately, she can only bring two out, one of which is the slut

This assault, of course, causes a rebellion in her alter egos, and they become much more active. She evidently has four of them in addition to "herself". The Slut is a street-wise and very sexual being; Tattletale is a very young personality who communicates with Angela using a really old tape recorder she had as a kid. She is the one who dealt with her uncle's advances. Girl Scout is still around, but she has chosen to make herself scarce at this point. The Little Wife is the one who cooked and cleaned during Angela's captivity, and i had thought she was another personality, but Coley confused the issue. The Slut and Little Wife are both the same personality. That took some grasping. The Angel is a male personality which may well be the one who killed her captor - assuming this is what happened, and it's starting to look like that.

Angela has told Dr. Grant about all of these except for Tattletale and her knowledge of her uncle's sexual assaults. She's kept this a secret because she fears it will break up her family if it comes out that her father's younger brother has been molesting her. Her mother has already told her that her father is being so distant because he's wracked with guilt about not keeping his daughter safe. I must confess, suspicious little tike that I am, that I'm seriously wondering if her father knows more about her uncle's activities than he's willing to admit. But what bothers me more is that none of the doctors have any worries about what Angela will get up to when The Slut puts in an appearance. They're failing to adequately protect Angela from herself, and that bothers me. I don't know if it's written this way because Coley wants it like that, or if it's because she simply hasn't thought this through properly. I guess we'll find out as we go!

One thing which bothers me now is that Angela makes arrangements to babysit for a neighbor so she can pick up some cash. This bothers me because I'm now concerned about which personality is going to actually be doing the babysitting and what the consequences of that will be! As it happens that first night seems to go well. It's only after Angela gets home that the problems start. Her personalities like to come out at night and do stuff: like make diary entries, clean her room, do her math homework, etc! This means that poor Angela 'wakes up' without having had any sleep! The baby had concerned me because of Angela's personality splits, but having read a little further, it concerns me for a different reason!

Worse than this, however, is that Angela makes out (in 'The Slut' personality) again with Greg and he tells her that he's going to break up with Livvie, and start dating her again - but he never does break up with Livvie. As each day passes, he still sits with her at lunchtime at school. Angela goes shopping with Kate to get a nice dress for the upcoming formal. They run into Livvie and there's this serious bitch-fest which comes up between her and Angela out of nowhere! Livvie is obviously still planning on going to the formal with Greg. which causes Angela to pursue Greg about it and it becomes quite obvious (to us, but not to Angela, evidently) that Greg isn't going to leave Livvie. He makes out with Angela again and the next thing she knows, he's dropping her off at home with everything agreed, except that Angela can't remember the last hour. All she knows is that she has no one to go to the formal with.

I have to wonder where Livvie is during these times. If she and Greg are so close, how come he has all this time before and after school to get it on with Angela? How come neither he nor she have any concerns about STDs or pregnancy? Yes, I'm overly protective of Angela, because unlike some of the better female protagonists I've read about of late, Angela actually does need protection, and she's not getting it, not from her family, not from Greg, who supposedly is very fond of her at least, and not from her doctors! This can only end badly!

Angela has the procedure to eliminate the personalities, but they can apparently do only one at a time, and the first to go, at Angela's insistence, is The Slut/Little Wife. Before she goes, she puts in a quick appearance to tell Angela she left her a diary entry hidden in a drawer at home. When Angela reads it, she discovers that she was apparently impregnated by her "husband" during those three years. It isn't expressly stated, and Angela does not appear to read it that way, but the Little Wife's tale of growing fat and thin again?! But that's not the weirdest part - more on this in a few! Also Little Wife reveals that she conjured up The Angel to 'take care of' the husband.

Hey, for once I was right in my prediction! Yeay! Things ended way badly with Greg. But let's not jump too far ahead! So Katie has a boyfriend called Ali who has a brother called Abraim, both of whom I really like. The whole friendship with Katie is turning into something wonderful, and her interaction with Angela is precious. She isn't at all fazed by Angela's slow revelation to her (doled out carefully over their reacquaintance) that she has dissociative disorder. Katie thinks it's cool and embraces it whole-heartedly, casually bringing it into conversation without any hesitation or fear. The four of them go to the formal and have a good time, but Coley doesn't share any details. Instead, she jumps straight to where they drive up the mountain, and watch the sun come up.

WHAT? This is a sixteen year old, going on thirteen, who was abducted for three years, has some serious issues (understandably!), and her parents have no problem whatsoever with her quite literally staying out all night with a boy they've never met? (Her parents miraculously disappear from the story during that evening - nowhere in sight, which is distinctly weird!) This, I'm sorry, but this is bad writing, Coley's first real slip-up IMO. Greg chases down Angela (having been made suitably jealous at the formal!), and tells her he's dumped Livvie, and now they can be together, but Angela no longer has Little Wife the Slut on board, and she turns Greg down, so this monumental prick teams up again with Livvie and the two of them start a not-so-subtle hate-campaign at school, which no one in authority seems to have any interest in stopping! I find that a bit much. Angela is reduced to carrying around a small spray-paint can to spray over the absurdist and libelous graffiti they leave about her.

Worse than that, the evil Greg and Livvie call the press and reveal the story of the abducted girl returning home, so now the press is all over the school and all over her home. This I find unbelievable. Not that the press would behave like jerks, but that they would not have found out about Angela already. Everyone in the school knew. The students would have told all their friends and their parents. It's simply not credible that this story wouldn't have broken much sooner than this.

But let's roll with this one, because we have bigger poissons à faire frire (see how wonderful it looks in pretentious French? lol! Or should I say, Français prétentieux ?)! Anyway, Angela gets home to find not the press, but the police and the press, although why there are so many police is a mystery since they don't seem to be doing anything about the press. Detective Brogan is there, and he tells Angela that they've found the cabin where she was held, and while there was ample evidence of her being there, there was no trace of her captor anywhere to be found; the cabin looks abandoned. Did the avenging Angel kill off the criminal? It may be more complicated than that. Recall that apparent baby that seems to have disappeared? Was the baby killed? Or is the baby the selfsame one which Angela babysat?

Angela now has the opportunity to go with the police to the cabin to see if it triggers any memories, but she's not too fond of that idea. And why didn't the police, who are aware of her sessions with doctor Grant, have one of her personalities describe her captor to a police sketch artist? Angela takes this news badly and throws up. Later, sitting in the shower trying to get her other selves to reveal something Angela is convinced they're hiding from her, The Angel shows up and his hands are bloody and he begs Angela to get rid of him next so neither she nor anyone else can discover what he did. Angela doesn't want to let him go, because he protected her from Greg. She now regrets even "killing off" Little Wife/The Slut.

Then Angela comes back into herself to find the bathtub bloody. She just had her period. So this complicates things! I love this story! If this is her first period, it explains why there was no issue with pregnancy in her trysts with Greg (although STDs still remain a problem - and note that Coley makes no mention of Angela being tested for any such thing after her return, which is one thing I'm sure they would have done). However, if this is her first period, there is no way she could have become pregnant during her stay at the cabin, But I think this is a red herring on Coley's part! Shame on her trying to mislead me like that. I thought we were friends!

When Angela gets back downstairs after her shower, something truly weird happens. Her mother refers to detective Brogan by his first name. Coley has made me so suspicious now that the first thing I thought when I read that was to ask myself: "Did Angela's mom have an affair with Brogan? Is the baby she's carrying actually his? Am I evil or what? Hey, Coley did this to me, making me second-guess everything she's writing! It's not my fault!

Angela discovers that Doctor Grant cannot get her in to erase The Angel until after Thanksgiving, so she's stuck with him until then, but there's no word on whether Angela talked to her and told her anything about what has happened recently, so I'm forced to assume they didn't talk. This isn't good, because Angela is already irrationally tarring herself as a murderer, and now she has all Thanksgiving to let it eat her up. But it gets worse: Coming over for turkey is that turkey Uncle Bill who raped her repeatedly when he was supposed to be babysitting her.

He starts feeling her up in the kitchen every time they're alone until The Angel surfaces, breaks his fingers, and stabs him with a large fork. But it gets worse. Her father comes running in at this ruckus and tackles Angela to the ground claiming she's finally had the psychotic break he was expecting all along! I want to kick that son of a bitch squarely in his juvenile balls before I cut them off and feed them to the neighbor's dog. I hope Coley has some deep, penetrating revenge coming down on both these scum.

Her mother is no better - she calls for an ambulance! Now the picture is complete: Angela's abuse started long before she was abducted, long before rapist Bill started on her. It started with Angela being unfortunately born to parents who are complete dickheads. As the siren approaches (seriously - they got here that fast?) Bill the pond scum punches her in the stomach and pins her arms behind her back and the medics, brain-dead robot puppets that they are, immediately inject her with a sedative, and she blacks out.

Some one needs to fire those medics. Angela wakes up in a room, restrained on a bed, with her mom sitting by. When she reacts negatively, not violently, but merely negatively to her mother's mention that Bill (or is it Bull?) is fine and forgives Angela, her mother threatens her with another sedative! Angela (and I cheered when I read this!_) asks her mother to leave and requests doctor Grant to come in. Coley slips a bit here, too, because when Grant comes in, Angela asks her to remove the restraints (which remind her horribly of her abduction and imprisonment) and Grant acts shocked that she's even in them. This is a trained psychologist who came back from vacation to see to Angela, and who has already spend some considerable time there that day, yet she apparently didn't observe that Angela was in restraints, nor did she note it from her chart - a chart which is she was any kind of decent doctor, she would have thoroughly taken in the first chance she got!

This novel is divided into four sections, starting with You, then We, followed by Us (I think - I went thru the book several times trying to find section 3 and couldn't!), and ending with I. The end of section 3 is a bit too pat for my taste. Angela, who has discovered the The Angel was eliminated while she was sedated, miraculously integrates the other two by herself. I don't like this part because it sends a misleading message that anyone can overcome the most appalling mental trauma with barely any effort at all. But the story isn't over yet and I'm excited to read the last section to find out what's hidden behind the firmly closed door that The Angel wouldn't even let Angela's other personalities through. I think Coley wants us to believe it's the secret of Angela killing her captor, but I'm convinced, rightly or wrongly, that it has to do with babies.

Coley betrays Angela here because rapist Bill evidently gets off with a restraining order and no jail time. Now Angela's grandmother is pissed off with Angela for forcing her to choose which of her two sons she will favor. She chooses to favor the rapist. Angela makes a date with Abraim - the first upon which they will have gone without Katie and Ali along for the date, but before that, she has to babysit. There is it again. Coley has to be telegraphing this baby stuff for a reason!

Or maybe not! Angela has an uneventful babysitting, that is until she touches the baby blanket when she's checking on him, and suddenly the Harrises are back home and it's one o'clock. Now where did the two hours go? It looks like Angela actually isn't quite as integrated as she thinks she is. Did we get a trip behind that locked door which The Angel wouldn't let anyone past? Angela sleeps very late the next day and when she finally gets up, she realizes that her rocking chair has been moved. This was a regular occurrence during her split days, but it should no longer happen. Angela arrives at the disturbing conclusion that there's yet another personality which has never even surfaced, let alone become integrated with the rest of her!

I so love this novel, and that's where I'm going to leave this review. This novel made me excited, angry, emotional and anxious to read the next page. Despite some issues and flaws (which Coley commendably addresses in an afterword where she reveals that 'J' was indeed an Angela but in real life), this novel is possibly the best I've read since i started blogging this year. The ending is awesome and so well written it makes me depressed that I didn't think of it! I am definitely going to be stalking Coley's name on bookshelves in future!


Thursday, January 17, 2013

You Against Me by Jenny Downham


Title: You Against Me
Author: Jenny Downham
Publisher: David Fickling
Rating: WORTHY!

Despite being proffered as young-adult fiction, this novel contains very mature themes, language, references to violence, smoking, alcohol, drugs, rape and sex. Having said that, it's a real rip-snorter! Yes, you heard me right and I'll bet no other review has dared to say that about this novel!

I was half-way sold after seeing the title; then came the back-cover blurb, and that first line. There was no hope for me after that. I read some 140 pages the first day, and that's with working full time and running the kids around. Or they were giving me the run-around, one or t'other.

The book is set in England and written by an English author (who has also had some acting experience), so I was right at home from page one. Actually from page nine. Downham (or her publisher) chose to number the pages right from the start, so chapter one appears on page nine.

I've posted a glossary of English terms for anyone who needs a reference.

This book is kick-A. There's Mikey, who we meet on line one page one (or nine) with the very first sentence: "Mikey couldn't believe his life". Yes, his life is a sentence. At least, that's how he feels, and he does feel, and strongly, too.

Mikey's 18 and lives with his absentee mother - that is she lives there but she's always got her abs on the settee. Or in bed. Her real problem is alcohol. Mikey appears to be the only person bringing home the bacon. Not that there's ever any bacon or any other kind of food in the 'flat' in the projects where the family lives. Dad's never mentioned. Mikey has a younger sister, Holly, who's 8 and who is missing school big time, and another sister Karyn, who's 15 and therein lies the main problem: we learn that Karyn was raped and now daren't leave the house.

Mikey is so angry that he heads over to Tom Parker's house to ding him with a 'spanner' in revenge for his assault on Karyn. He fails to meet Tom. Instead, he meets Eleanor (Ellie), Tom's disaffected sister who is dealing with the rape charge filed against her brother as effectively as Mikey is dealing with the rape charge his sister leveled. Ellie has no idea who Mikey is. She's also supposedly the only witness to what happened that night, and has declared that she saw nothing.

They meet again later at a welcome-home party when Tom gets out on bail, and they start to bond (bail bond, get it?! Forget it!). Mikey's plan is to try and get some information on her brother, so he and his pal can plan on how to ding him effectively with that thar spanner. Ellie is intrigued that Mikey isn't behaving towards her like other 'blokes' she's known.

On the day Ellie goes back to school bad things happen, and she detests all the attention. She gets into a fight and leaves early, and she calls Mikey, and they go down to the river together and swim despite the freezing water and lack of swim suits. And they kiss.

Mikey breaks up with his girlfriend Sienna about whom he cared little. In fact he's never really cared for any girl he's known (other than his sisters and his mum) until he met Ellie.

Meanwhile Ellie blows off school one day and heads out to the coast (they live in a coastal town) with her brother. She's becoming something of a rebel against convention after that school fight, and so she shares his cigarette sprinkled with some cannabis resin, something she's never done before. Wanting to express her fears and doubts about the upcoming rape trial, Ellie says (what is to Tom) the wrong thing and he essentially kicks her out of the car to find her own way home. Perhaps we should learn something about his attitude towards women from this.

Ellie recalls that Mikey had told her he worked at a pub on the sea front and so she wanders around and eventually finds her way into the pub where he is, but before she meets him, she runs into his boss who informs her of his name - something she hasn't known until now. She suddenly realizes that he is the brother of the girl her own brother allegedly raped!

She wants to storm off, but eventually they end up sitting on a bench looking at the sea. Ellie arrives at a plan: she will trap Mikey in the same way she thinks her brother was trapped, so she agrees to go on a picnic with him. When he shows up at her house, she invites him in, informing him that she's home alone, and that she still has to make sandwiches. Mikey ends up making them, and he's all ready to leave, but Ellie insists upon showing him around her home, and they find themselves in her bedroom, where she takes her top off, in the pretense that she's changing clothes. But Mikey doesn't behave in the ungentlemanly way she half-expected he would.

Suddenly Ellie's brother Tom is home unexpectedly, and he and Mikey get into a big fight which causes bruises and draws blood. Ellie breaks it up with the garden hose and Mikey leaves, feeling wretched, and neither wanting nor expecting to see Ellie again. But of course they have to see each other in court for the pre-trial hearing. Tom pleads not guilty. Ellie feels like rubbish warmed over. Mikey can't stop glancing at her.

Mikey and his friend Jacko (where did Downham come up with these names, seriously? Are these guys circus clowns or pre-schoolers?!) are out driving and Jacko tries to pick up two hikers they see by the roadside. His aggressive approach makes Mikey feel really uncomfortable, what with everything else that's been going on. Jacko can't understand his attitude. By this time, he's feeling as alienated from his supposed support network as Ellie is from hers. They have only each other they can talk to about this, it seems.

Ellie now has decided that she thinks Tom isn't as innocent as he claims. She agonizes over what Karyn is going through and she tries to talk with her family about it all, but is effectively pushed away whenever she raises these topics. Her brother and father treat her and her mother like servants. Maybe there's another lesson there? Like father like son?

Tom's solicitor talks with Ellie and advises her that they will not now be calling her as a witness since she's obviously compromised. He suggests that she might be wise to find her own solicitor.

A word or two about the British situation between barristers and solicitorsmight be in order, although I'm about as far from an expert as you can get. The rough breakdown is that the solicitor offers legal counsel, but the barrister represents the client's interests in the courtroom, although there have been changes to this system, I understand, so that things are a lot more muddy than they used to be. Why this system arose in the first place is a mystery to me. Doubtlessly it has its roots back in ancient British history, so I'd recommend you pop over to wikipedia if you're interested in learning anything about it.

Feeling completely cast to the wind, Ellie runs over to Mikey's place and texts him to meet her. At first he's a bit resentful and he tries to push her away, but they end up talking and then they take a bus out to her grandmother's empty cottage on the coast and there, they enter into a very hesitant tryst. Yes, tryst is the only word for it. It reminds me of a chapter I wrote in Saurus. It's Ellie's very first time, and it's Mikey's first time where he actually had his heart in what he was doing.

Both of them run into trouble when they get home and perversely, it has nothing to do with their intimacy! The secret is out at Mikey's place. Jacko has blabbed it all. Karyn is very angry at Mikey's 'defection to the enemy'. Ellie's family (at least the male contingent) are incensed at her defection. Curiously, her mother is the only one who 'mans' up and supports her.

Ellie goes to the police the next day to change her statement The police come down hard on her whilst telling her that it's for her own good because the defense (or in this case, since it's England, the defence) will try to argue that Mikey has put pressure on her to change her story. Curiously no one talks about the fight that between Tom and Mikey; it's like it never happened!

Ellie's father snipes at her relentlessly as he helps Tom to move out (he has to stay with a friend because he can't have any contact with Ellie now she's changed her story). They're taking out pretty much everything that belongs to Tom, like he died or is permanently moving out of the home.

Ellie feels wretched. When Mikey shows up at her home, bravely and shamelessly, since her mum and dad are home, tossing little rocks at her window, her mother appears at the door and tries to turn him away, threatening him with her husband and the police, but Ellie comes down in her pjs and they talk, and eventually (after she changes clothes) they take a walk together, out into the fields near the house. And that's how it ends, with the two of them realizing that the future is going to be rough and bumpy, but neither one of them is willing to give up on the other, nor turn from the path they're taking with each other and the future they will build together.

This is pretty much the perfect story. Downham nails it completely. Seriously. Sometimes the ways in which these people act is frustrating and annoying but they're not acting out of character. Yes, we never learn what the outcome of the trial is, but I don't think that's relevant. In reality it would be, of course, but this isn't about Tom and Karyn, it's about Ellie and Mikey, and Downham gives it everything.

One thing in particular to love about this novel is that Downham actually never takes sides. She never depicts Tom as being thoroughly evil, or Karyn as being loose or righteous, or dishonest. She tells it like it is - a complete mess, through which it's hard to see clearly and really hard to get a handle on what actually happened. Of course, Ellie clears up that part towards the end, but I don't doubt that this is what it's like when this kind of appalling interaction happens for real.

There are many people who take the attitude that all men are all closet rapists (and others who believe that women who dress in a certain way deserve what they get) and that all rapes are power plays, but I don't think it's quite that simple and people who try to paint this kind of thing in such simple black and white strokes are doing a disservice to the men and women involved in these tragedies.

Let's be clear: it's is never right to assume you have a claim on something belonging to someone with whom you're intimately involved or with whom, for whatever reason, you wish to be so involved. What your partner may offer you is a privilege for which you should be appreciative and thankful, even after it's withdrawn. It's not a title deed which you can claim at any time regardless of your partner's wishes, even if you're married to your partner.

The other side of that coin is that partners need to talk out problems they perceive, and not let them fester and turn into disasters. That's what partnership means. And they need to try to accommodate each other's wishes as far as is reasonable rather than simply turn their backs on each other's need for intimacy and thereby provoke resentment and potential problems down the road.

That said, one party or the other at any time has the absolute right to say no, no further, this stops here, and to be respected for that choice no matter what has happened beforehand. I'm sure that in the bulk of cases of rape, it is a sick aggressor who does not respect boundaries and who can't take no for an answer, but I'm not sold on the aggressive claim that it's 100% about dominance and subjectivity; that it's always a power play and I think it harms women and men alike to insist upon framing it always in such a pitiless black and white perspective

I think anyone who assumes that is missing things which could prove important in resolving and addressing case like this. Imagine, for example, that you have a couple of college kids who meet, go to a party, get drunk, but not helplessly so, have sex, and then in the morning one of them decides that was not what they'd intended, and files charges? How do we resolve something like that?

Clearly they should neither of them have acted under the influence of alcohol, but such a case is not the same as a case where someone forces their self upon another at knife-point. It's not that black and white. In that case, the one with the knife is entirely in the wrong and the other did nothing wrong although they will undoubtedly blame themselves, but in the hypothetical case I outlined above, who is really at fault there? One? The other? Both? It's a lot tougher to resolve that, which is why the smart thing to do is never to get yourself into a situation like that!

Karyn and Tom both should have realized that what they were doing was entirely inappropriate, but given Karyn's age and her inebriation, Tom ought to have been a lot more mature. Here's a conundrum: Suppose nothing had happened but Karyn had woken up convinced that something had? How would this story have run from there?

But in the end, in this case, the story really isn't about Karyn and Tom. It's about Ellie and Mikey, and it was told so well, with such great language and in such an engaging way. For as sad and frustrating as parts of the story are, and for as confusing as the issues can be, this is a great story.

Here's something to make you think. Doubtlessly, this will sound sick to some, but there's a potential for a sequel here about Tom and Karyn, which would be even more controversial: how they go from this appalling rift and detestation of each other, to falling in love and getting married. Yes, it would be an extremely tough novel to write, even more so than You Against Me, and many people probably wouldn't appreciate it, but if anyone could bring off a novel like that, it's Downham. How about You and me Against the World for the title?!

Here's something I came across today, Tanya Gold taking Joanna Lumley to task for her supposed blaming of girls for getting themselves raped! No, that's not what Lumley is saying at all, as far as I can tell. Lumley is telling girls how to protect themselves. That's not the same as saying it's the girl's fault. Of course it's the rapist's fault. But what Gold is saying is the equivalent of telling the fireman who advises you to get a smoke alarm and a fire extinguisher that it's not necessary because it's 'the fire's fault' if your home burns down, not yours! lol! Seriously? If someone told you that you that, since it's the burglar's fault, you don't have to bother locking up your house or your car when you're away from it, would you think that advice smart? I wouldn't.

Yes it's the rapist who is entirely to blame for the rape, but there's a big difference between looking like a victim and actually becoming a victim. Taking intelligent precautions to keep yourself safe from burglary, robbery, fire and from attacks is not the same as taking blame for an attack if it happens, although all-too-many women do it pains me to say. All Lumley is saying, as is, I think, evident from the context, is that it's always smart to be proactive when it comes to protecting your person and your property. There are things you can to do to avoid even looking like a potential victim, let alone actually being one. So does Gold want girls to be victims just because she can then rightly blame the rapist? Can't we have both: people taking care to safeguard themselves and their family, and placing the blame squarely on the perp when those safeguards fail? It doesn't have to be either/or, Ms Gold.

Rape continues to be a news item, of course, both in the US miltiary of late and at shocking levels, and in Egypt. Evidently Islam is no respector of women, and religious military doesn't appear to offer women any security there either.