CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 34 . . . . May 8, 2015
Romy Grey is already shattered when All the Rage opens. The opening scene is a flashback to the night she drank to excess and did not consent to sex with an older boy she had a crush on. And now it's happened again, or something has happened, as 17-year-old Romy wakes up in a ditch and tries to piece together her night. The story then picks up two weeks earlier. Romy is used to being an outcast since she accused the sheriff'ís son of rape. She's lost her best friend, Penny. Everyone at school hates her. She knows to watch her own back because no one else is going to do it. That her father was the town drunk didn't help. Now her mom is happily settled with a nicer guy, and so at least Romy has a stable home. She also has a life outside school at the diner where she works and where a nice boy named Leon wants to date her. She likes that he doesn't know her as a girl with a reputation, a girl in danger, but she's not sure if she can open up to anyone. And she knows she really is in danger, and that when someone writes graffiti on her car, that when someone steals her underwear, when someone trips her, it is not a prank but a warning.
Her tenuous equilibrium is thrown off when her ex-best friend Penny comes to talk to her at the diner. What Penny tells Romy is just one more thing Romy can't deal with. The next thing she knows she is waking up on the side of the road, discovered by a police deputy, half undressed with the words "Rape Me" written on her stomach. Romy doesn't remember what happened between running out of the diner and waking up in the ditch. What did she do, and what was done to her? In the mean time, Penny has disappeared, and the search for her will uncover even more ugly truths about the town of Grebe and its culture of abusive power.
All the Rage strikes like a hammer. It is an intense book which is meant to be difficult and disturbing. It pulls no punches in delving into the atmosphere of sexual danger many teen girls find themselves in. Romy is so damaged that, while we often see her pain, rarely do we actually see her anger. When it does burst forth, it is hot and genuine. It is also intensely sad as she has no outlet and no one to share with. She doesn't want to burden the few people in life who do love her. Teen novels are already brewing with a melange of emotions, and this one raises the stakes to an even higher level. And while it is gruelling to read about Romy's ordeal, this is a compelling novel which it is difficult to put down.
The two most effective aspects of the novel are a great voice and meticulous pacing. Romy is guarded, but she still invites readers into her thoughts and her world enough to be a sympathetic character. While there are certainly many moments in which she could act differently, could ask for help, could confide in her parents, her actions make sense within the context of her experiences. It is frustrating to experience her pain and helplessness, but the feelings are realistic. Romy is very easy to relate to and narrates events in a strong and believable way. This is a story with its share of dramatic action, but it is always seen through Romy's emotional lens, and her perspective and feelings are what really propel the book and keep it moving. It is unusual to find such an active and dramatic plot which is so effectively rendered from a psychological perspective. If I had one quibble, it would be that the multiple timelines are a bit more confusing than they need to be.
Author Courtney Summers eschews easy answers, which makes the novel more satisfying in some ways and less in others. The conclusion of this story is that violence against women is never isolated; it is part of patterns that are personal, collective and systemic. Many people are complicit in persecuting Romy, and each finds ways to justify their treatment of her. For some, it is an ugly truth they would rather ignore. For others it is important to be on the side of the powerful against the weak. And for others, it is easier to believe that bad things don't happen to innocent girls. Romy's ultimate decision is to stop being silent and to try to expose the actions of dangerous men. It is one small step towards a world she can be safe and comfortable in. While I loved her decision to take action, I am not sure that the development of her story propelled her to this place yet where she was ready to consider taking on the culture which shamed her.
All the Rage handles all these difficult themes very deftly. It is a very solid jumping off point for discussions of misogyny and power and violence against women. And the book is a portrait of a memorable character which allows it to be more than a story dealing with a topical issue.
Kris Rothstein is a childrenís book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.
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