Cross posted at I Just Finished Reading...
I don't often read YA, and there's a really good reason for that which I will note in a moment. But this is a coworker's debut novel. So I really wanted to read it.
The novel takes place in small-town Maine. Katie's dad up and left them - just went out one day and never came back. Katie doesn't know if he's dead or alive, but works on the assumption that he's still alive. Her mom works nonstop and when she's not at work, she is hanging out in Portland with her latest boyfriend, leaving Katie to care for her younger brother alone. Mom comes home only to replenish the groceries. Katie has a lot of feelings of inadequacy mixed up with her dad's desertion. My father had pulled his truck out of our driveway five years before, after a fight with my mother, and vanished. There had been one card, on my brother’s birthday, then nothing. Nothing. I didn’t know if he was dead, but sometimes believing he was beat the alternative—that he hated us enough to leave and never look back.
She also obviously also feels the pressure of having to be the parent for her 12 year old brother. She has a strong support system, though, in her friends and their parents. The main thing keeping her remotely grounded is the possibility of a hockey scholarship.
Katie's group of friends and their dynamic strikes me as authentic - some of these kids drink (some to excess) and some don't at all. They smoke dope. But overall, most of them are good kids. Sounds typical, I suppose.
Alec is a hotshot football player, whom Katie & her friends have always looked down on as a "player". They aren't buying his "I'm so awesome" bullshit. But one day over summer, when Katie is missing her best friend (vacationing in Europe), Alec approaches her, and she feels something. A pull, an attraction.
She begins an on-again, off-again friendship/relationship with Alec, until his destructive behavior makes her feel uncomfortable. He encourages her to drink constantly, and tries desperately to get her into bed. She constantly flip-flops about her feelings for Alec.
One night, after a lot of drinking, there is a car accident. Alec's car is totalled. It's assumed that he was driving, but it was actually Katie. She lets him take the blame, and that's when more trouble starts.
Katie is overcome by feelings of guilt, but buries them with alcohol. As her behavior becomes more and more self-destructive, she still feels obligated to Alec and though he creeps her out most of the time, she still wonders if maybe he really likes her after all. She is so confused and consumed with guilt that she tries to avoid him at all costs.
Until she can't, and an encounter at a New Year's party turns into rape. Yes - warning: there is a rape in this book. It's not terribly graphic on-page, but it is there, and obvious, and painful.
Following this, Katie comes completely unravelled, drinks excessively, even during school, and withdraws completely from her friends and family.
I felt as though her counselor and/or teachers should have noticed and recognized the signs of trauma. After all, we know that they receive training for this. However, they didn't believe her. They thought the claim of rape was a way to avoid taking responsibility for her drinking. Even her own mother didn't believe her at first.“He raped me.” She blinks once, stares at me. “Alec Osborne?” “New Year’s Eve. He did, Mom.” I look at her and start to cry. Mrs. Bradford pauses and bites her lip. “You know how serious it would be to lie about something like that.”
God, I hope that doesn't happen as often as I think it does!
Katie is forced into rehab and counseling. And although the rape is reported (at least they followed mandatory reporting laws!), it's a case of he said, she said, and Katie's credibility is nil due to her drinking and Alec isn't prosecuted. Oh how this frustrated me on Katie's behalf. It's a perfect example of real life, though. it happens, and happens often. And the victim-blaming and trauma here is a huge part of why we tell our kids No means No
- even if you think it doesn't. Even if she's running hot and cold. She's a teenager, too, and as confused as you might feel, she feels the same confusion. And as adults, we can also be unsure of what we want. We talk about potential situations often, and counsel them on ways they might approach any situation.
During rehab, Katie begins to come to terms with her dad's desertion, her reason's for drinking and a whole host of other issues. And though she loses her scholarship as a result of her self-destructive behavior, in the end, it looks like she'll be ok. However, the book ended rather abruptly and we really didn't get a chance to see how well she does in the real world.
Lisa Luedeke's writing is excellent. Though it's in 1st person (which I hate), I struggled through, and realized why so many YAs are in 1st person. As an adult, it takes you right back to that age, and as a YA, it speaks to you on your own level - puts you in the character rather than being an observer. You feel everything right along with Katie. Luedeke's characters leaped off the page. They felt very real. Spoke like teens. Acted like teens. Felt the things that teens feel - the confusion, the intensity, the despair, the boastful pride - all of it. And therein lies my problem with YA.
I have only really run into this one other time - with Marie Force's Love at First Flight (not a YA). I felt like the situation struck too close to home. I wanted to avoid it at all costs. I have two teenagers. I live in fear that one day they or one of their friends will have an issue with drinking. Especially now that Oldest is starting college. He came home from the Bahamas and my nephew's fraternity house and told us how he was drinking, but luckily he can handle his alcohol. Gah! A parent's worst nightmare!
I read to escape real life. Let me rephrase. I read fiction to escape real life. Reading something that strikes at one of my worst fears - that my kids or their friends might get out of control, addicted to alcohol, or worse - is not my idea of a good time. This was a very difficult read. I can definitely appreciate Luedeke's talent, and those who love YA will probably love this book to pieces. Apparently it's been compared to Speak (which I confess I haven't read, but wow - I've actually heard of!).
It's a difficult but excellent look at teen relations, teen problems, addiction, recovery, and forgiveness. So for fans of YA, this is sure to be a hit. If you love YA, I highly recommend it. For myself? Not so much.