TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE
I mean it. This is the most visceral reaction to a book that I have ever had. This is the most personal book review that I will ever write. Because there is nothing more personal than what I am about to tell you. If depictions of rape are triggers for you, back away now.
They say the devil’s in the details. I disagree.
Details are nothing more than the pieces of truth we choose to bring to light. Everyone knows the devil can’t abide the light. His kingdom is rooted in the shadowy realm of the unknown. His throne is built on lies. You can find him in the blank spaces in between the details. In those dark corners we don’t want anyone to see.
Courtney Summers understands this. She provides just enough illumination to cast long, dark shadows, allowing plenty of space for the devil to hide.
I don’t agree with whoever wrote the blurb for this book. It doesn’t do it justice. It oversimplifies. This book is not about the struggle of a young woman to find her voice and save others from suffering a fate similar to her own. Not really.
This book is about the brutal reality of what it’s like to be a teenage girl. It subtly details all the ways that rape culture pervades our everyday lives and manipulates us into perpetuating it.
It’s about how the voices and opinions of young girls are silenced, even by the “good guys”. It’s about how our thoughts and emotions are rendered invalid when someone with a penis contradicts us.
It’s about how we turn on each other, because it’s easier to believe that someone is lying than it is to think that someone else you know did something unthinkable to that person.
It’s about what no one talks about; what happens to survivors of rape. How that act of violence defines you, sometimes for years afterward, even as you resist it. How even as a survivor, you still feel like a victim.
It’s about having your freedom stolen from you. Having your innocence ripped to shreds. Having your voice ignored. It’s about being dominated. Sublimated. Deconstructed down to body parts. It’s about hating those body parts afterward and resenting everything they represent.
It’s about hiding what you are. Clothing yourself in costumes and camouflaging yourself with makeup. Because if you look different, you are different. You’re not the girl that thing, that terrible thing happened to. You’re someone new. Someone different. Someone it might not happen to again.
It’s about questioning yourself. Silencing yourself. Being silenced by others, in ways so minute and insidious that you don’t even realize it’s happening. It’s about hopelessness. Loss. Shame. Terror.
This book isn’t about the light. It’s about the shadows. About the places the devil lurks.
It was those shadows I found myself drawn to while reading this. Those critical details of Romy’s story that Summers chose to obscure. Trouble was, I filled them with my own memories.
This is my story:
When I was 18, I was raped.
Up until that point I had lived a charmed life. I grew up in an affluent beach community. It was and still is a liberal bastion of tolerance and acceptance. Nothing bad ever happened there. At least not anything you talked about in public.
I had parents who loved me. Who didn’t force a traditional gender role upon me, but instead encouraged me to discover for myself who I was and what being female meant. They were well-educated hippies, aware enough of rape culture to start lecturing me at a young age on the importance of knowing my surroundings, of never taking a drink from a stranger, of avoiding dark alcoves and poorly lit parking lots.
I had a solid group of friends all through school, mostly male, but with two female friends so close we were called The Three Musketeers. I was athletic, pretty, and popular. I got voted best dressed in our yearbook, made the junior and senior prom courts, had so many friends I lost count, and was invited to every party.
One hot summer night shortly after graduation one of my friends’ older cousins blew into town. He was everything I’d been raised to believe in. A golden child. Handsome. Rich. Charming. The moment he walked into the room, I smiled.
There was just something about him that made him irresistible. It manifested itself in the way my female friends leaned toward him when he spoke. In the way my male friends threw him jealous glances.
His family had a summer cottage on the beach. After a night of club hopping, he invited us all back there.
I’d drank just enough to feel tipsy. I was in that brief phase of inebriation where everything is magical. It was then that he turned to me and slipped an arm around my waist. It was after midnight, and yet the sun came out and shone down upon me in that moment. I couldn’t believe he had signaled me out. I couldn’t believe I was so lucky.
He twined his fingers through mine and led me away from the others an hour later. The two musketeers I left behind sent me conspiratorial winks and ‘Go get em, Tiger’ looks over their red keg cups. I winked back and laughed.
When we reached his bedroom he closed the door behind us and pressed me against the wall. He was tall and muscular. Tall enough that he had to lean down to kiss me. Muscular enough that he easily lifted me by the hips when he got tired of that and instead pinned me to the wall.
I wrapped my legs around him, my head spinning, because I was a virgin, and this was the hottest moment of my life. Or was it because I had passed that magical point of inebriation and had crossed into the realm of intoxication?
I couldn’t tell, and at that point, I didn’t really care.
We made our way from the wall to the bed, where moonlight fell across the black sheets in long arcs of silver. He threw me down amongst them and covered me with his large body.
We made out some more. He took his pants off. My dress hit the floor soon afterward. We switched positions, and I left a trail of kisses from his chin to his boxers, lavishing every glistening, tanned ridge of muscle in between with attention.
He growled and flipped us, so that I was once again on bottom. Then his boxers came off. I wrapped a hand around him.
It was when he started to slip my panties off and angled himself toward the apex of my thighs that I balked. I realized what his endgame was. Sex. I hadn’t been thinking sex. Because I wasn’t in the habit of having it. I had been thinking oral. Should have voiced that sooner, I guessed. My bad. I quickly amended my mistake.
“Oh, no. I’m not going to have sex with you,” I told him. I smiled then, attempting to dull the rejection. “Let’s switch. Let me go down on you.”
He didn’t smile back. His entire mood changed. I felt it happen even before his lips turned down in a frown. Violence crept into the bedroom with us, wrapped its cold fingers around my heart and squeezed.
I shook it off. I rejected the instinct that screamed at me that something wasn’t right. I rationalized it away as an overreaction. Because fifteen people were in the next room playing flip cup and beer pong. He wouldn’t dare do something terrible to me with so many potential witnesses.
His frown disappeared as quickly as it had emerged, replaced by a megawatt smile that lit the room up. He leaned down and kissed me again, stealing my breath away.
And then he did something terrible to me.
Like I said, the devil is in the blank spaces, isn't it? And I could fill those in for you. I could tell you the horrific thing he said to me when I bled the evidence of my virginity away, the words I still hear in my nightmares. But I'll let you fill in the blanks, because then you'll understand just what you're getting yourself into with this book.
The point is. None of this should have happened.
I was safe. My friends were right outside the door.
It shouldn’t have happened.
I did everything right.
It shouldn’t have happened.
But it did.
Because in the end, nothing had prepared me for this.
All my parents’ lessons couldn’t have prevented me from freezing, because though they had taught me to do everything right leading up to this moment, they hadn’t taught me what to do when someone ignored me.
They didn’t tell me what to do when someone covered my mouth to silence my whimpers of, “No, please stop.”
They didn’t warn me about the crippling shame. The embarrassment.
They didn’t tell me that I should scream. That I should fight.
Rape culture had filled in these blanks.
Rape culture had taught me how to be the perfect victim.
And where my parents’ lessons ended, rape culture stepped in to fill the blanks.
My parents had taught me how to avoid becoming a victim. But society taught me how to become the perfect victim when someone victimized me.
That night, society won.
The next morning I slipped out the door while everyone slept. I drove home in the pre-dawn light, with tears streaming down my face and blood coating the inside of my thighs.
It took me a full month to admit to myself that I’d been raped, another two weeks before I drunkenly confessed this to my friends. I could tell by their looks that they didn’t want to hear it. No, don’t tell us this terrible thing. He was nice. He was beautiful. He wouldn’t do what you’re saying.
I didn’t stick around long enough for their thoughts to make their way to their mouths. Unlike Romy, the main character in this story, I was free. I had graduated. I came from money.
I had savings in the bank. And I took that savings and used it to MOVE OUT OF THE FUCKING COUNTRY.
That’s how far away I had to get. It wasn't far enough.
But Romy is stuck, and this book depicts everything that might have happened to me had I stuck around. The shock of others, the disbelief, the blaming, the shaming, the hatred.
This book shows you what happens when you speak up. What happens when you stick around after you speak up. So pay attention. When you think the story drags, look closer. Peer deeper at that random bit of dialogue you think could have been cut in the editing process, because I promise you, it’s there for a reason.
It’s showing you something. A glimpse into the life of a survivor.
How impossible it seems that you’ll be believed when you tell someone you’ve been raped. Because when you get tripped by a guy in track and it’s his word versus yours, they believe his. Because when you tell someone a person got in your face they tell you you’re overreacting.
And this is from the “good guys”.
I’m speaking up about my own story because of Romy. Because though she might be fictional, so many other women’s stories aren’t. My own included.
We need to talk about this.
We need to change our society.
We need to stop teaching girls how to be victims.
We need to stop teaching boys how to victimize us.
And we need to do it now.
Because one out of three women reading this knows exactly what I went through.
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For more of Navessa's reviews, you can check out her author profile on Goodreads.