Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Tease by Amanda Maciel

Tease by Amanda Maciel
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: April 29th 2014
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault. At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who's ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. During the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her role in an undeniable tragedy. And she'll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.

Jessica and Natalie have picked books for their first reviews that they absolutely loved and that they would most definitely consider to be feminist. I'm going to do something a little bit different and pick a book that I have more mixed feelings about. Tease is a powerful story with a thought-provoking message, but it's definitely not perfect in its depiction of feminist issues.

Large parts of this book had me (and will probably have you) in a feminist rage - the slut-shaming in this book is out of control. The reason that Brielle and Sara (and in turn, all the other girls at their school) tease Emma is because she's what they consider a slut, i.e. she's (allegedly) slept (or at least gone out) with who-knows-how-many guys. Literally all of the harassment is based on this tiny thing that is absolutely none of anyone's business. Emma hangs out with (and maybe hooks up with) a lot of guys and doesn't have any girl friends (because they shun her for being a "slut"), so obviously she's a horrible person. Sara has a deep-seated hatred for Emma because she's "going after" her boyfriend, and it's the classic case of blaming the "Other Woman" rather than holding the guy accountable for his actions. I could go on about this, but I'll just leave it at telling you that this was really frustrating to read about. But despite all of this anger, it totally works: it's not like the novel condones Sara's behavior, and it's definitely portrayed as problematic. We get to see the very real, tragic effects of bullying and slut-shaming, and it makes for a powerful, important story.

Sara is a character you go into the novel wanting to hate, and I definitely disagreed with her on pretty much everything. But Amanda Maciel also makes it really easy to understand where she is coming from. Her desire to fit in and to have Brielle like her is presented in a way that absolutely made me feel for her, especially knowing that, if it meant I could have been one of the "cool kids," it would have been pretty easy to get younger-me to go along with lots of things, too. I'd like to think I wouldn't have let it get this far, but really, it's not like Sara wanted Emma to kill herself, either. And while it's obviously bs that Sara blames Emma for everything and lets Dylan (her boyfriend that cheats on her with Emma) off scot-free, I could still understand that she is hurt and struggling. Of course the novel is biased, and Sara is probably not the most reliable narrator, which definitely affects your view of these characters. We only see Emma through Sara's eyes, and only in this context, while we sympathize with Sara when we see her interacting with her brothers and struggling with her relationship with her father. I really don't know how I feel about any of these characters, and I think that means Amanda Maciel succeeded in writing a very thought-provoking novel.

Even though the message is ultimately a positive one, there are elements of it that don't quite agree with my definition of feminism. For example, when Sara apologizes at the end, most of her regrets are focused on  making assumptions about Emma without knowing whether or not they're true; because it turns out that Emma didn't sleep with all these guys, Sara admits she didn't deserve to be bullied like this. But what I would have liked to see in the message is that even if Emma did sleep with all those guys, that does not make her a bad person or worthy of this kind of (or any kind of) harassment. I also had some issues with how the topic of cheating is treated, how Emma gets all the heat for it and Sara doesn't seem to blame Dylan at all. I understand the impulse to hate the girl that your boyfriend cheated on you with, but it bothers me so, so much when people blame the "Other Woman" rather than the cheating boyfriend. It is not other girls' responsibility to not flirt with your boyfriend; it is your boyfriend's responsibility to not act on this attraction if he is in a monogamous relationship. I get that flirting with a guy who has a girlfriend is not the most morally sound thing to do, but it is most definitely worse for the guy to respond to this attention; the one who is in a relationship is at fault, not the "Other Woman." Dylan is the one who made a commitment to Sara, not Emma, yet Emma gets all of the blame. Of course, this would be fine if it were only the case in the beginning, since the novel doesn't condone Sara's behavior in any way, but it's not really addressed as an issue over the course of the story. I'm sure that, if I asked Amanda Maciel about it, she would agree and not condone Dylan's behavior, I just wish it had been emphasized more towards the end that the cheating was his fault, not Emma's. 

Tease isn't perfect, but I do think it sends a very important message, and it's definitely an original contribution to discussions of bullying and slut-shaming. With engaging writing and controversial but sympathetic characters, Tease is a thought-provoking, powerful story. I definitely recommend picking it up.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!