Published by Balzar + Bray on April 29, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Social Issues, YA
Source: Owned Audible Book
From debut author Amanda Maciel comes a provocative and unforgettable novel, inspired by real-life incidents, about a teenage girl who faces criminal charges for bullying after a classmate commits suicide.
Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault. At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who's ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy. And she'll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.
With its powerful narrative, unconventional point of view, and strong anti-bullying theme, this coming-of-age story offers smart, insightful, and nuanced views on high school society, toxic friendships, and family relationships.
I love audio books. In the author’s notes on the audio version of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, he talks about how the first stories we learn are read to us. I listen to audio books when I’m in the car, shopping, and playing Candy Crush.
In typical book blogger fashion, I already have a tbr shelf just for audio books. Reviewing them is a bit more difficult, because I don’t take notes and I don’t always know how to spell the characters names. So these reviews will be a little different from my book reviews.
Tease makes for an uncomfortable read.
Told from the point of view of a bully, it really illustrates the idea that we all think we’re the hero of our own stories. Or rather, since this is a book about teenagers, the victims of our own stories.
The main character, Sara, is desperate to fit in. Almost all of her day to day decisions are dictated by her dominating bff, even the loss of her virginity. Even Brielle, who is straight out of the Mean Girls school of bitchy teenagers, has a layer or two hidden behind her Queen Bee persona.
Sara takes an instant dislike to new girl Emma, who threatens Sara’s insecurities. Even though it’s not clear, to the reader or Sara herself, how Sara feels about her boyfriend, she definitely does not like that he seems into Emma. Sara sees Emma as an enemy, and her dislike is egged on by Brielle. Jealousy turns into snap judgements, slut shaming and soon Sara has dehumanized Emma completely. For Sara, Emma is just some slut trying to sink her hooks into Sara’s ex-boyfriend. Everything Emma does is tainted in Sara’s green eyed jealousy vision, and soon Sara is convinced that it is Emma who is out to ruin her life (because God forbid the boy be responsible for trying to hook up with the girl, it’s always the girl’s fault and the boy is just a victim of hormones, right?).
What makes this book so uncomfortable is that I think most of us are guilty of having disliked someone for the same reasons Sara hates Emma, especially back in junior high or high school. How many girls were labeled as sluts and whore just for talking to a guy? It’s wonderful that so many people are decrying bullying today, but it’s a lot harder to practice what we preach.
Sara is angry and resentful, but she’s also so lost. Her sense of identity is so wrapped up in what Brielle and others think of her. When the bullying first begins, Sara feels completely justified, as if Emma has started a war. Although Brielle is clearly the instigator, Sara chooses to follow along and do some terrible things, effectively squelching the voice inside her head that doubts she’s doing the right thing. There’s a sense of unfairness in this book. Sara feels that people are unfair to her, but seems unaware for most of the book that her actions were unfair to Emma. There’s an unfairness in how girls are treated in school, about how boys get away with so much, and how girls punish other girls for that. There’s an unfairness in how Emma and Sara could have been friends in a better world. And there’s an unfairness in the fact that Sara is allowed to realize her mistakes, while Emma remains frozen in time.
And that brings me to Emma’s suicide. Because we only have Sara’s point of view, it’s impossible to know all of Emma’s story. Like so many suicides, those that are left behind are left with many unanswered questions. Bullying obviously plays a large role in Emma’s death, but there are hints of other reasons. I doubt suicide is ever about just one thing, even among the more seemingly impulsive suicides. Suicide, like bullying, is rarely ever a black and white issue.
The truth is that you’re never going to like every person on the planet. Sometimes we don’t like people because they remind us of our own flaws and insecurities. It’s easy to focus self hate onto other people, or blame them for the reason we’re unhappy, like Sara who has convinced herself that her life would be perfect if Emma would just magically move away or disappear. That energy that we put in to tearing down others could do amazing things in our own lives if we used it to improve ourselves and our world view. Sara’s journey in the book isn’t a huge one, she doesn’t become a saint at the end, but she becomes more self-aware. It’s hard to be a bully if you learn empathy.
I was all over the place emotionally with this book. It brought up so many emotions, some quite conflicting. It made me think about my actions, past and present, in a new light. Was I someone’s Sara at some point? Or someone’s Emma? It all boils down to this:
We all could stand to be a little nicer to one another. We don’t have to retaliate against real or imagined slights. But it starts with us, and it has to start now. How we act or react is completely within our control and we need to listen to the inner voice (mine always sounds like Hayley Mills in Pollyanna) that urges us to do the right thing. Not for popularity’s sake, or image’s sake, but for our souls. Okay, stepping down from my soap box, even if there’s a million other things I could go on and on about. I might have to force my book club to read this book!
Julia Whelan narrates this book, and in my notes all I wrote down was one word- Superb! I’ve listened to other books narrated by her and I adore her talent (especially in Gone Girl and Dan Well’s Partial series). For me this worked as an audiobook because it probably helps humanize Sara more. Which the character needs, because Emma is dead and once we learn what Sara and Brielle did to her, it’s hard to continue to read how clueless Sara is in her role in Emma’s death. Whelan had me glued to every second of this audiobook, and it’s one I’m glad I own so that I can listen to it again in the future.