Saturday, April 11, 2015

BR: All The Rage

by Courtney Summers

I've read every novel (minus novella) that Courtney Summers has published, and I feel like I have this "bond" with her books - mostly because she debuted the year I got into blogging (2009) and I remember reading reviews of Cracked Up to Be and then buying the book for myself just to know what the big deal was (it was a BIG deal). I've been a fan ever since; I've got all her books on my bookshelf back home and all of them are brilliant (several 5-star reads!).  I'm gonna plug an interview I did with her a couple years ago because that was on my blogging bucket list (click here!), and I fondly say that she is the "plus one" to my holy trinity of YA authors.

Wow, that was a long intro. Let's get to her book.

Summary (goodreads):

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous.But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive? 

My Thoughts

Before I start, I want to mention how important this book is. Summers brilliantly tackled difficult themes and the current discourse around rape, and I want to say that All the Rage is a book that should be read and discussed and thought about. It's a book that is especially relevant in our current cultural climate, where the realities of rape culture are horrific (among many other things), ad Summers intelligently explores the complexities and consequences of our societal standards.

So what about the book? Many good, some not as wonderful.

This first bit is a bit of a rant on the structure as opposed to actual bookish parts: The novel is split into a sort of "Now" and "Before" and "After" type of thing, but I really had some issues with it. Claiming a passage as "Now"sets up a reader to expect certain things, and it can help the reader get into a mindset of timelines, of setting up a story, to expect information that can fit into what "now" should be like. I promise you that I read this book carefully... because I wanted to throw my hands up in exasperation, I was so frustrated. If "now" is NOT the "now", why in the world would you label it as such? I just hated how unnecessarily confusing it is. It's the very first thing that pops up, and it completely throws off the first third of the book. Two weeks before what? Before the "now"? Well, apparently not... The reason I have such harsh feelings about this is that I feel like the confusion I was feeling really hindered my enjoyment and ability to be sucked into the novel immediately. Okay, moving on. That might've been an overreaction, sorry.

The characters... I liked Romy. I liked her a lot, she was well written, gritty, fierce, and very, very raw. And hugely unlikeable at times, but it's part of the package, and it's what makes her stand out. She's a sympathetic and complex character right from the start, Summers has some truly spectacular prose that makes Romy become this very REAL person. I think Summers' writing is her biggest strength, and it is through the fact that the writing is so well done that it actually shields the flaws of the book. The secondary characters just "okay". They have moments to shine, moments to spit out the hard truths or reveal the darkness and cruelty of human beings, but they don't feel as fleshed and nuanced out as I would have hoped. They feel well-placed and well-written, but fall into "prop" mode to move the story along. I get it -- it's Romy's story (rightfully), but I would have liked to see something more (what a vague phrase, I know).

The mystery... okay, in order for a good mystery to work, I personally think there needs to be certain elements: 1) it needs to be interesting, 2) I (the reader) need to care (I just made those up off the top of my head).
Interesting? Yeah, I guess. Not tremendously so, but it gets the point across.
Did I care? Ummm, I guess. Except this is where I felt the book ran into trouble-- it couldn't decide what it wanted to be. Does it want to be an examination and commentary of rape culture and young women? Did it want to be a mystery? Did it want to a character exploration of PTSD? It probably wanted to be all these things, and while it worked on certain levels, it also didn't. The mystery just lacked heart. Romy had heart, the mystery did not, if that makes sense. Romy has such a complex relationship with her peers and Penny and her community, but it never felt that Romy was emotionally invested in the mystery for the sake of the mystery-- therefore, I as a reader did not *really* care either. What I DID care about was how it affected Romy, and in that sense, Summers definitely succeeded in making me invested in her character.

I've briefly touched on the writing, but to nobody's surprise, it is superb. It's unforgiving, and deserves the highest of compliments.

It's a book that may be ambitious, but is such a welcome addition to the very relevant discussions we must have as a community. Romy Grey is worth everything and brings the reader into her intimate reality, but at the expense of the overarching mystery. But I dunno, even after writing that, I don't mind. I was always about the characters anyway*.

Well done again, Courtney Summers. You haven't disappointed me yet. Thank you for writing this book.

"You should have believed me." -- the one line that just brooooke my heart. 

8.5/10 m - I was frustrated with the structure/set-up, and wasn't as engaged with the mystery plot. I also feel like the marketing/summary for the book is a tad misleading. However, I loved the writing and the characters and the incredibly important themes of All the Rage. It's very, very good, and I'd highly recommend all of you to read it. Also, damn, that cover is PERF.

*I read this book last year, and while the plot doesn't really stick with me, I can still remember the emotions and the writing style. The details might not be there, but I still remember how the book made me feel.

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