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.

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2 thoughts on “On Rape Culture

    1. Sexual assault is a glossy term, lumping too much in together. Society feels less threatened when sexual assault is used instead of rape. Rape is raw and gritty, and that was what the author wanted to show. Thanks for commenting!

      Like

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