On Rape Culture

“I thought that by twenty-eight I could stop trying to prove myself and relax already. But this fight just gets bloodier with age.”
― Jessica KnollLuckiest Girl Alive

Ani was a girl of 14 when she was gang raped. Three boys forced sexual acts on her, while she was drunk and unconscious. No one believed her when she told her side, even her mother stating she should have known better.

Things like this happen everyday, every hour, every minute, in real life. People are the raped and the rapers, an eternally grey area in the eyes of the law. We’ve all heard the statistic that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, less will come forward to file a report, and even less will be convicted of a crime. The news plays a scary game when they highlight the false reports, showing all women that they better prove the guilty are guilty, unless they want to be charged themselves.

Jessica Knoll played a game too. In Luckiest Girl Alive, she showed a vulnerable young adult, desperate to be liked, hiding her story, and eventually being blamed for sullying the name of the unreachably wealthy students of her class in the prestigious Bradley school in Pennsylvania. Ani is a girl who readers can love to hate, a character who is relentlessly adolescent. She is an infuriating character, a person who could be set in many different motions, but frustratingly chooses the wrong way every time. She lives in a world where status means everything, ultimately a very demented view of what life might have been like if the characters of Gossip Girl were real. People are mean to each other in this novel. Kids are brutal in ways that seem unfathomable.

And yet, this story could be real. Teenagers can be monsters to each other. They can get drunk enough on power to convince another to kill themselves or that they weren’t really raped. It’s a story I can find on any news outlet at any time of the day, and it resonated with me on how this story could easily be true life to a current teen, just trying to fit in at their new school.

I had a hard time rating this book. The content was raw, and Ani’s character was very interesting to read about. Jessica Knoll does a great job showing the naivety of Ani as a teenager. She doesn’t hold Ani to a morally high standard, inciting the hardness of growing up. It was not a fantastical way of looking at a survivor of sexual assault, and things did not magically work in the main character’s favor. It was a real look at a victim, the guilt that’s felt for being a survivor and the backlash that society spits out. It was unapologetic and enticed me to see how the author chose to unravel the plot. It kept me reading until I ran out of pages.

Ani finds a little redemption in the end, when she starts to realize what her life is truly about while sorting her priorities. But…the novel was based heavily on plot. Personally, I felt Ani could have been developed more, her story so fascinatingly disastrous. Every nook and cranny of this book should have been dedicated to giving her a true voice in this novel.

Sexual assault is an incredibly difficult topic to write about. I found Jessica so brave, especially after finding out she had first hand experience of being gang raped in high school. To open up about a topic that society still flinches over is commendable. That part of the story was done well, refusing to allow any grittiness of what rape does to someone slip away. I empathized with Ani. I know her pain, and I know what it feels like to be called a liar. I know what it’s like to be ostracized from everyone you ever knew, for trying to speak your truth, your account of things that had happened to you. I know what it’s like to have anger pushed so hard at you and to be called the culpable one, the one that deserved what was coming to them. I know what it’s like to be bullied into feeling worthless and alone. Ani was a figure what I remember from my past.

But Ani was also a person who needed people to like her, something I cannot relate to much. I knew from a very young age that people my world would be unforgiving, and that people with my personality don’t do well in society. It’s knowledge that is reconfirmed daily. I live my little life of logic and reasoning, emotions kept private. This is my nature, what has shown through even as a toddler. Ani though, she needed to be accepted. She needed to feel like things would be ok, and to feel what solid friendships are like. She needed a mother who didn’t push her to marry a man for his wealth and status. She needed someone to be genuinely be proud of her.

Even at the end, this feeling wasn’t truly resolved. For a reader looking for a resolution, she won’t be liked. She will be exhausting. Some readers may find her whiny, possibly a dweller of misery. My interpretation though, was a terrified girl, trying to find the right path in a deeply traumatizing high school experience.

My Month-Recap for June

It was a busy month for many reasons, but I’m happy to say that it didn’t seem to alter my mood too much. In previous months I was really feeling every day, each one bogging me down and pushing my head under water. June wasn’t without its shitty moments. Large things happened that weren’t exactly fun to go through, but I endured it, and didn’t take it too personally. I’m counting myself the winner over depression for the month. I’m not sure what changed inside me, but I felt a sense of clarity within myself, which has been a rarity for several years.

I finished a total of books in June!! This is a little beyond what my goal was, so I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I had to put down Dragonfly in Amber in preference for some library books that were due back, but all-in-all, I’m happy with the unfaltering voracity I’ve pursued with the books I read.

The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life, by Laurie Notaro

This woman is uproariously funny. She was recommended to me by a coworker, because we share a higher education institution in common. Her stories are hard not to love. She tells them as a flawed human, a person unable to pretend to be anything more or less than she has become. I found this quite a difference between Chelsea Handler’s book, which I also read this month.

Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,  by Chelsea Handler

Maybe it’s because Chelsea is so famous, or maybe it’s the style of her delivery of her funny situations, but I found myself cringing more than laughing with this book. This is not to say that Chelsea isn’t funny. I think I am an anomaly when it comes to my overall impression of her as a comedian. Whether she intended to or not, she helped to shape the climate for women stand-up comics, by showing society that women can be more than an assistant. She openly admits to being a story-teller, with embellished plots, and many drunken endings, which I respect immensely. I think the part I can’t understand is how extroverted she is. This is coming from a person who thinks that reading books is a wild way to spend a whole weekend (I embrace me!). She and I have really different personalities, and when a person’s whole celebrity existence is based on her loud and proud opinions, it can be a challenge for introverts to relate. The stories were good, but I couldn’t relate to the situations much (ie, I’ve never quite been a woman who jumps for her type of fun).

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

Halfway through this novel, I was a little surprised that I didn’t feel very connected to any of the characters of this novel. I typically LOVE WWII literature. Half of my bookshelves are set within the time period, and I didn’t suspect that I’d have a hard time loving this story either. By the end of the book, I had warmed up to the book enough to enjoy it. I’ll say that there is something a part of the story that seems detached from the rest of the book. Maybe the author did this on purpose (and this is strictly my opinion), but I didn’t find that person’s story necessary. I think this is because the ties this character had with the others was not developed over time. The rest of the story was gut-wrenching and beautiful at the same time. I definitely had a book hangover after I returned it to the library.

Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters

This was a standard mystery series book. I’ve been looking for a good “brain-candy” series to help pull me out of living so seriously. It’s a habit of mine to get very focused on aspects of my life that I feel are lacking, and sometimes heavy books can keep me too pensive. I’ll usually try to break that time up with a fun read, one that doesn’t take too much focus to know the characters and the plot. This book took me a while to finish. I picked it up alongside other books, and would pick it up whenever I felt the urge. It was cute. The main character, Amelia, is witty, funny, and brilliant. The author was a little dry at times, but I noticed that the book was written in 1975, which makes the style typical of the period. What I mean is, that there were probably dozens more hilarious parts that I may not have picked up on. Overall though, it wasn’t difficult to finish, and I didn’t hate it. I don’t know if I will continue the series, but I won’t rule it out at this time.

Dear Mr. You, by Mary Louise Parker

I loved this book. It details encounters she’s had with various men in her life. Some were sexual relationships, but the majority were about the people who played roles through her life so far. Some of the stories bruised my heart, as I thought about similar relationships I have had. It was a quick read also. I gobbled up these stories in about two days, and her words felt carefully collected and thought over.

The Passengerby Lisa Lutz

I did not enjoy this book. I almost abandoned this book, but with my compulsion to take it all in before I make an assessment, I struggled through. The premise for the book was interesting. Retrospectively, it was a book that acted as an attempt at a story about a person like Megan in The Girl on the Train. However, the characters were underdeveloped, the plot had several holes, and there were some typos in the text. A nagging feeling kept me thinking that what I was reading was a first draft, not yet fine tuned. The book was a fast read, but one that felt short of my admittedly high expectations.

Coming up Next Month

I’ve already read a few books for July, and I’m currently reading Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve got a few more that I have in mind, but I’ll have to see if the library has them in stock before I can commit. Stay tuned!

Catch up on last month’s books.

Have you read any of the above books, or have any book suggestions for me? Comment below!