Truthfully, I’ve been avoiding writing about this one. I am unsure if the purpose of having a sexual assault storyline is to:
(a) bring awareness to the issue
(b) use it to make an interesting storyline
(c) a cautionary tale for teenage girls
For any of these, it still is pretty damn frustrating. Not much else to do but give you the deets:
Lila and John Pfeiffer, sports reporter, are starting to hang out. Lila is into John because he is really interesting and genuine, not like the rich dolts she usually dates. Also, he actually listens to her and cares what she has to say. So, since it is actual a somewhat interesting and actual less shallow relationmship, it has to be too good to be true.
They finally go out on a date, Lila wears a black spandex dress, and they go to Miller’s point. They start making out, and Lila enjoys it, but then he gets aggressive, and then…well, you can guess, it’s pretty scary. John tells her “you know you want it” and even unbuckles his belt. Which is ironically the most specific reference to someone’s actual anatomy in any book.
Lila manages to get away and is (obvi) very upset. She shuts herself in, and…gasp!…doesn’t care about her looks or makeup. Of course, Mr. Fowler is out of town. Many of Lila’s friends get annoyed by her sulking and depression. Really, she’s being such a buzzkill. Surprisingly, Lila completely rebuffs her housekeeper, Eva’s offers of support. It is pretty sad that Eva is the only parent-like figure that Lila has, and she doesn’t seem to realize it.
John suddenly turns from an interesting guy to an aggressive sociopath. He taunts Lila in the hall and threatens her if she tells anyone. Meanwhile, Lila has another one of her famous parties and John has the audacity to show up, and after he taunts Lila more she breaks down and yells at him for what happened. It’s all over school and the students are divided between believing Lila and believing she made it up. I think Caroline Pierce had an aneurysm when she heard this gossip.
Here’s the other surprising thing: Jessica seems to be the only one who cares that Lila is acting different. She claims it is because she misses having someone to go shopping with, but at least she gives Lila some tough love and is pretty assertive in supporting her and getting her help. It is maybe the one time where I don’t totally hate Jessica. I know, right?
Elizabeth, despite being the savior of the needy, is doubtful of Lila. The fuck? Suddenly she is not going to feel empathy for Lila because she thinks Lila is a snob and god forbid anyone special enough to work at The Oracle should dare do something like that? Or maybe she is just mad the attention is on someone she isn’t able to help.
Another student, Susan Wyler, emerges from the character bermuda triangle, and admits to Lila that she went out with John and the same thing happened. (I feel like this is similar to an episode of 90210. Or something.) They both confront John in the Dairi Burger, stating that he needs help. Suddenly John’s friends realize what happen and leaving him sitting all along, to ponder the error of his ways. Lila suddenly feels a bit better, but isn’t totally cured by the end of the book, which is a bit more realistic. Although she does end up getting involved with the world’s most inappropriate therapist, but I’ll write about that later.
In the completely ridiculous subplot, Sam and Jessica are going through…the opposite of sexual assault, I think? As in, they can’t keep their hands off each other and they are afraid that they will let things go to far. Just get over it and wear a condom. What’s the big deal? They both seem to want it badly, and the only reason they find they want to stop is because of some uptight morals and not because of their own choice. So they both decide to engage in activities that won’t allow them to have too much physical contact, and hilarity ensues. And then they resolve it by just agreeing to trust each other.
Why was the sexual assault plotline juxtaposed with the ridiculous subplot? Anyone who has taken Intro to Women’s Studies knows that sexual assault is not about sex specifically. Was that trying to lighten the tone?
Ok, now I shall step onto my soapbox. John seemed to be angry because he broke up with Jennifer Mitchell, who was being distant and wishy-washy with him. It got him annoyed and of the “you girls are all alike, you seem to want one thing, and then say another! No means yes!” mentality. So really, it’s not John’s fault that he tried to assault Lila? It’s because his girlfriend dumped him? THE FUCK??!?##
It seems that these teen stories of sexual assault seem to follow the same pattern: Girl likes guy, they go out, guy attacks, girl sinks into deep depression and blames herself, guy manipulates situation and terrorizes girl, only with the assistance of a savior helping them, confronts boy and shall overcome. Sure, it may help in giving some PSA about assault, but it doesn’t always happen this way. There are a HUGE array of emotions that happen after an assault, and all of them are valid. Some girls may not get upset, they may channel it in other ways or report it right away. Some girls often stay in a relationship with the guy. I just don’t remember seeing any deviation from the standard plot. And the “I Spit On Your Grave’s are few and far between. Even Thelma and Louise was a unique take on it.
I didn’t read this one the first time around (probably because it didn’t include a party, a makeover or a Slam Book) so I am not sure what I would have got from it the first time. Never trust guys? Be careful who you date, they might rape you? If it happens, it will ruin your life? If it happens, there is hope? I’m not sure.
Despite my annoyance for the expected story arc involving sexual assault, this recalls one of my favorite made for tv-movies, When He’s Not A Stranger, starring the always lovely Annabeth Gish. The assault scene is actually very hard to watch, but it’s very compelling, and she does triumph in the end, with the help of the less significant Dillon brother. Also, in a very odd way, this made me excited to go to college. NOT because of the assault, but it portrayed college not as a wild party with crazy shenanigans, but as a serene place where a gal can just spend her time quietly studying and befriending a nice, non-macho guy in her science class. (Dammit, it’s not on Netflix).
On a completely different note, I must insist that everyone drop what they are doing immediately and read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the sequel, Catching Fire. It is an example of young adult fiction that is amazing and compelling, and appeals to adults as well. I read both books with a 72 hour period. As fellow book lovers I know you can relate to this experience; it was the kind of book that caused me to lay in bed awake and think about for hours. It haunted me as I went through my day. I loved the sci-fi element, the writing style, the premise, and the fact that the characters were set in a world where modern day standards of attractiveness and social norms did not exist. It had just enough of a love triangle to be enticing and not ridiculous and irritating. I am counting the days until the third book is released in August. Grab a copy and clear your schedule.