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All the Rage
A few thoughts.
One: I planned to cover two books tonight, linked by the fact that they both feature girls who have been harmed by their worlds but who won’t go down without a fight, and who both, through perseverance and pain, succeed. But it diminished both texts and I especially didn’t want to risk obscuring All the Rage, which is an important and powerful book.
Two: Sometimes the worst thing about reading with the kind of critical lens required for the Printz is that that level of scrutiny often ends up meaning we read books more than once. Admittedly, there are times when this is a gift. Rereading can be a luxury, allowing us to read for craft and detail rather than just to booktalk, and often a second read reveals new layers. On the flip side, there are also times when a close second read means we need to confront the things that are less than perfect about a book, taking a top book down a few pegs or leaving us (me) torn between a critical/blog charge and a personal and/or professional desire to promote powerful, meaningful books.
I’ve read All the Rage twice now, and I’m still struggling with the tension between what matters about this book and what matters for award season.
All the Rage, Courtney Summers
St Martin’s Griffin,
Reviewed from final e-copy
Why this book matters: Much as I hate that this is so, rape happens. It’s real and prevalent and many of our teens might never talk about it, but that doesn’t make it less important or terrible in their lives.
And we live in a world where the phrase “rape culture” is a common term, because —
Because after girls come forward, news stories — like the one that plays in the background at the end of All the Rage, undercutting the sense that Romy might be okay, after all, even if she’s changed and even though what happened can never ever be okay — talk about bright boys, good boys, boys brought low by the situation.
Boys. Not the girls whose lives have become hell. Romy says she’s be better off dead, thinks of herself as a dead girl.
Because fiction can be a window or a mirror, and ugly as it might be, we need windows and mirrors that talk about reality and don’t mince words. If it’s a window, it can educate. If it’s a mirror, it can help heal. We need every girl to know you are not alone, not in what happened to you and not in how you feel and not in terms of care. You are seen, you are loved, you deserve to be seen.
look at me.
I want you to look at me.
We need the books that put this out there. That face the facts: this is not okay. This is not easy. This is life — but it shouldn’t be — and surviving means fighting and fighting is hard and scary and maybe you can’t but you still have to, somehow, with lipstick, with changing yourself into someone new, with counting days to get out, with finding compassion within your own depression/loathing/anger/pain. Because anything else lets the rapist win, and you — we, they, she — deserve better.
This book matters.
And Summers provides an impressive glimpse/reflection, depicting the situation around and within her character, the pain, in heart-breaking, rage-inducing detail that is as much about what isn’t said as what is; Romy’s narration isn’t entirely self-aware, but it’s raw and real and the reader never forgets that this girl has been through hell and she’s still there, but also, in the midst of the pain, she can still have a sense of humor, care about her mother, think about and care about other people including the brother of her rapist.
But matters doesn’t mean it’s perfect, and there are things that a second read, a read not consumed by Romy’s pain, by the horror and hope, turn up.
I don’t want to belabor the point, nor diminish what is excellent about this book. As an emotional portrait, it excels. As an internal dialogue, the writing — slipping between tenses and pronouns that reflect how Romy sees herself, tries not to see herself — is often top notch.
When it moves to a more external novel — the mystery of what happened at Wake Lake and what happened to Penny, the dialogue between adults — it’s not as strong. Tina is barely sketched (she’s a mean girl but it’s not entirely clear why, and the reductive mean girl trope is a shame in a text this nuanced in its consideration, through Romy, of what it means to be a girl). It’s not entirely clear in the text what Leon sees in Romy (or how he sees enough of her to see her), or why Romy calls the trucker — small moments that feel partly organic, but also shaped by plot. There’s a really-too-much level of conversation about Caro’s pregnancy and small details (mucus plug, latching issues) that don’t matter to Romy and speak to adult authorship rather than teen readership.
(It may be that there’s something here about parenting, and Caro is meant to be a character in some kind of dialogue with the other mothers we see — Romy’s mother, Holly, Helen Turner — but I can only see that there could be intent there; I don’t think the text is supporting that reading because there’s just not enough. No, that’s not exactly it. The text supports that reading as long as they are all similarly depicted, through Romy’s lens, but Caro is too present and not filtered enough. Maybe she’s an alternative future for Romy? But I am trying to make this work because I want this not to be a flaw, not actually reading it that way or even buying my own arguments).
None of these are break it issues, and none of this preclude this being important and meaningful and book that might — like Speak before it — be positioned to be the book that tackles a hard reality so well that it gets read for years to come.
But they are issues, and if this is on the table, they’ll come up. And if this is on the table and makes it through the early conversation, I think the rereads hurt. This went from extraordinary to powerful. I’m going to leave it at two reads because I don’t want its impact lessened any more; the RealCommittee don’t have that option for serious contenders.
About Karyn Silverman
Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.
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