Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: "All The Rage" by Courtney Summers

No one in Grebe believes Romy Grey about the sheriff's son. Her former crush on him, her willing presence at his house, her family history of alcoholism, all add up to one thing in the eyes of her peers: she is a liar who would say anything for attention. Telling the truth has cost Grey everything.

After the traditional high school lake party, Penny Young, Grey's onetime best friend, goes missing. The police searchers who look for her find Grey instead, wandering in a daze on a country road. Grey's rescue gives her peers a new reason to hate her: if the searchers hadn't split their forces to help her, they might have found Penny by now.

In the face of her classmates' resentment and the Grebe sheriff's accusations, Grey joins in the search for Penny. Despite everything, she thinks that Penny would have done the same for her.


All The Rage by Courtney Summers (2015)
4 out of 5 stars 

Complexity of Writing: 3/5
Quality of Writing: 4/5
Strength of Characterization: 4/5
Logic of Plot Development: 4/5
Evocation of Setting: 4/5
Effectiveness of Pacing: 4/5
Resolution of Conflict: 2/5
Emotional Engagement: 5/5
Mental Engagement: 4/5
Memorability: 4/5
Bechdel Test: pass
Diverse Cast: pass
Content Warning: graphic description of rape, suicidal thinking, bullying, drug use, racism, misogyny, character deaths
Overall Response: I'm almost glad the ending flopped because otherwise this book was almost too intense to handle.


More Thoughts: Generally, I don't like talking about books by comparing them to other books, but I can't discuss Courtney Summers' All The Rage without bringing up Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak.

If you aren't familiar with the latter, it is another intense, close-focus book about a high school girl who has been sexually assaulted. In Speak, Melinda is unable to find words for what happened to her, so she stops speaking altogether. She endures a year of harassment from her peers who castigate her for calling the cops at a teen party, unaware of her reasons for doing so.

I'm excited to hear about Speak being taught in schools. It gives me hope to think about a new generation of kids being taught en masse to think about consent and about the effects of trauma.

All The Rage (which, I must say, contains less rage than one would expect) tackles a different aspect of surviving rape. By the time the reader meets Romy Grey, she has already faced the specter of the nightmarish past. The monsters of the future await. How do you continue growing up in a town that brands you a whore and a liar? How do you contemplate dating and intimacy after being assaulted? Can you ever be someone new, or will you always be that victim?

The content warnings for All The Rage largely speak for themselves. It is more graphic than Speak--not just in Grey's flashbacks, but in the intensity of her ongoing trauma. The most upsetting to me was Grey trying to shake off her concerned parents long enough to lock herself in a bathroom and ascertain whether she had been raped again, after a party she doesn't remember leaving. Second worst was Grey chipping off her trademark lipstick from a statue at school, which has been made up to resemble Grey, wearing clothes that were stolen out of her gym locker.
This close, I can see a subtle difference in shade. Off by degrees. That's not my red. It's some other girl's. Problem is, far enough away, it's easy to mistake for mine. I have to make sure no one else does. I bring my fingers to Jane's mouth. Marker. Permanent. The nails too.
But I can get rid of this.
I pick at the surface of her "skin" until it starts to flake. The circle around Jane's lips goes slow. The outer layer is weirdly stubborn. I want to talk to her, ask her how she's doing because it feels like she's real and I'm not.
You okay, Jane? No, nobody saw. But if they did, it doesn't matter. Whatever, you know? Fuck them.
It takes a bit of elbow grease until the red O is gone except it makes it worse somehow--what's left behind is a white stain.
Even setting aside the actual content, the book would be a rough read. Grey's narration is raw, unvarnished. There are no easy fixes and no cathartic moments of instant healing. (Interestingly, Grey is never required to Confront Her Enemy--unusual for a book about a rape survivor.) Life goes on and it continues to be a struggle, and sometimes other girls go missing, and sometimes you aren't ready to be a "normal" person again. Sometimes you continue to self-destruct in the wake of trauma. Sometimes you get into fistfights in the girls' locker room, because you just want someone else to hurt for a change.

In the very last chapter of the book, Grey overhears a radio talk show tsk-tsking the tragedy of another Very Promising Boy who is now facing rape and homicide charges, society twittering about his ruined life. Ah yes, the reader says as they set the book down: this is the world I know. You may not be Romy Grey, but by the end of All The Rage, you will recognize her struggle everywhere you go.

That said, I do have to talk about the ending (in very vague, generally spoiler-free terms) because the ending of All The Rage knocks off a whole rating star all by itself. It seems that Courtney Summers learned the Art of the Ending at the Jodi Picoult School of Fiction. She runs a good race only to fall sprawling across the finish line.

Before reading, I was warned before that the conclusion wasn't going to be all that I hoped and dreamed. I expected Grey's story to end in failure, for justice not to be served, so on and so forth. What I couldn't predict was that the book just ended. The final pages are a meticulous accounting of Grey's nail polish application procedure, copied word-for-word from the beginning of the book. If I were going to be very generous, I could say that Grey is symbolically donning her armor, but even at my most generous and symbolic, this doesn't take the place of an actual conclusion. After spending the entire book caught in an emotional riptide, the reader is left bone-dry on a confusingly vacant shore.

If it weren't for this whimper of an ending, though, I couldn't have pulled my half-drowned thoughts together enough to write a review. Take that as you will.

Thanks to Della for recommending All The Rage to me, however obliquely, through her own far superior review over at The Gorgonist!

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