Details: Summer, Courtney. (2015). All the Rage. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Keywords: Young Adult, Contemporary, Abuse
I have to start out this review with some major trigger warnings, that of rape and pretty extreme bullying. I know that doesn’t really bode well for the rest of the review but I want to make sure everyone knows what this book has in store if you decide to read it.
I knew what I was signing myself up for, having read the summaries and reviews. But I don’t think there is really any way to prepare for the emotional response you will have to a book like this, even if you haven’t gone through these things personally. It’s more than hard. It is devastating.
I am not going to spend so much time summarizing the story. As hinted at above, the main character, Romy, has been sexually abused by a classmate’s brother at the beginning of the book. She has had a falling out with her best friend and is chastised and mistreated not just by her classmates, but other members of her community, who think that Romy is lying. This is in part because her abuser is a “golden boy,” and the son of the sheriff.
The most compelling, and the hardest thing about this book is Romy’s inner life. She is not only scared and unhappy, but she is filled with understandable rage at what has happened to her. She has shut down in many ways but the more volatile feelings cause her to act in ways of self-preservation. It’s really hard to put all of this into words because my reactions to Romy’s experience were on a much more visceral level, but I guess what I am trying to say is that this was an incredibly realistic portrayal of trauma. Even when Romy is making choices that seem unwise or even unfair to others, based in what she has gone through, it makes sense. Courtney Summers does not shy away from the really grim realities of Romy’s life.
I think that books like this are extremely important on many levels. First, as mentioned above, just giving a voice to the victims of sexual assault, of what the experience actually is, rather than just becoming a statistic or a news item. It humanizes this experience in a way that while it is extremely unpleasant, is necessary to understand that this is a common place experience for many people, and, in my opinion, can bring more compassion to the experiences of others.
I also think that the actual themes that this book grapples with are vital, especially when you remember that this book is intended for a teen audience. Not only is the harming nature of toxic masculinity a major point in this book, but there is a lot of attention placed on what it means to be a girl in our society, how you are meant to act, who your body really belongs to, how you are treated. One of the repeating thoughts is that “there is more than one way to kill a girl,” which just about broke my heart. Because it’s so true. The myriad of ways that girls are mistreated and abused, even if it is not physically, is so important to get teenagers to understand. Maybe if they are aware, they can make the changes in their own lives.
On a lighter note, the writing in this book is brutal but beautiful. Summers does not use more than she needs to in her writing and it really serves the story. The flashbacks are done in an interesting way, in that while the story is written in first person, the past is almost dissociated from the main story, but intertwines with it. The characters were well developed, though my one criticism is that I wish there had been at least a few allies for Romy besides her mother. It seems like there would at least be one other person who believed her. But maybe that is just naive of me.
Read this book if you can. I won’t say it is enjoyable, but it is extremely well written and important in the themes it discusses.
Excitement Level: Five emotionally draining stars
Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review. I checked this book out from the local library, and reviewed it on my own impetus.