Book Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

rage

Recommended by Manda of bookmad.

Warning: discussion of sexual assault

Romy Grey is a high school student in a small town where everybody hates her family. So when she accuses Kellan Turner, the son of a local Sheriff of raping her on a night out, nobody believes her and she is shunned by her peers and everybody in town. Nobody believes the girl who “lied” about the town’s golden boy. The only place where she can be somewhat safe from being the town pariah is the diner at the edge of town where she works, where nobody knows about what happened to her and she doesn’t have to endure the daily humiliation. However, when she and her fellow classmate, Penny, go missing one night after being last seen at the diner, the only people who want Romy back are her mother and stepfather – the rest of town wishes that she had never been found and that the resources of the police department had gone to finding the other missing girl – the girlfriend of Kellan’s brother Alek.

Having a family that is hated by the entire community is exhausting, but recovering from one of the most heinous things that can be done to a person is something else entirely. Romy wears her armour – red lipstick and blood red nails – to keep herself from falling apart completely. At school, she is constantly dehumanized and humiliated by her classmates. The Sheriff and other adults who own the town despise her. Her mum and stepdad do their best to support her but they don’t understand what is happening.

 

“All the Rage” is my first Courtney Summers book, and it most certainly won’t be the last. At first glance, it features elements I don’t normally like – present tense and first-person narrative, time jumps and girl-on-girl hate. However, Summers manages to take all these things and make them into a very gritty, very realistic work of art that leaves you crying and fuming long after you finished the book. It’s not a happy, fluffy book – it is a very real portrait and a painful, anger-inducing reminder of how rape culture and sexism (more on that below) are still bleeding through our fragile society. Summers’ genius use of present tense and Romy Grey’s first person perspective doesn’t sugarcoat things and makes the reader sympathise with our heroine more while experiencing a very real need to rip Kellan Turner into very little pieces and beat the crap out of his father and brother and the rest of Romy’s tormentors. The use of imagery also adds fuel to the anger you experience – for instance, Romy’s armour of red lipstick and red nail polish. Firstly, allow me to say that I absolutely love make up and love reading about it, whether it’s used as a plot device in a romance novel or as something else entirely, like in “All the Rage”. The detailed description of Romy carefully applying her lipstick and nail varnish adds to the overall haunting tone of the novel in such a way that makes you praise Summers’ writing genius and crave more and more. The fact that Romy’s colour of choice is red only adds more fuel to the fire, so to speak. I love that the cover design features that barely-there touch of red on Romy’s face and hands. In fact, this is one of those covers that is PERFECT for its book.

“Anytime something bad happens to a woman close to me, it’s how I think. I have a daughter” – Romy’s coworker about a missing girl.

“I hope it’s not a girl” – Romy when her love interest’s sister gives birth.

“Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a body”. 

Above, I listed the three quotes that are, in my opinion, the most powerful ones in the book. “All the Rage” is set after Romy’s assault – it’s not a He Said, She Said story – that occurs off-page and before the story takes place. This is a story of a girl who is driven to an insane amount of self-loathing by the body shaming, victim blaming and other terrible things her classmate put her through. It pains me to say, but millions of girls go through what Romy went through every day. Millions of parents (well, good ones anyway) go through what Holly, Romy’s coworker goes through every time a girl is murdered, assaulted or missing. And Romy knows that too. Her self-loathing is so strong that she actually hopes that her boyfriend’s sister’s newborn baby isn’t a girl. No woman or man should ever endure victim blaming – sexual assault is NEVER, NEVER, NEVER the victim’s fault.

It doesn’t matter how much alcohol they had in their system.

It doesn’t matter what they were wearing.

It doesn’t matter how well they knew the perpetrator.

It doesn’t matter how “smart”, “handsome” or “popular” the rapist is.

THE BLAME FOR VIOLATION OF A HUMAN BODY IN SUCH A DISGUSTING WAY LIES ONE HUNDRED PER CENT WITH THE BASTARD WHO COMMITTED THE ACT, NOT THE VICTIM.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s 2015, shouldn’t everyone know this by now?

Yes. Yes they should. Yet millions of women and men are raped every day, and the majority of rapists get away with it. The media attitudes don’t help, either (kudos for Summers for not shying away from calling it out on this!) – “We’re so eager to point fingers at this boy – but how much of the blame truly falls on him? It’s sort of inevitable, isn’t it? What happened?”. 

I do wish that this quote was a one-off comment only occurring in fiction. But we hear thousands of such comments every year – from the media, the Internet, from the people we know, and even from the law enforcement. I used to live in a place where it was quite common for female rape victims to be told something like: “You’re a girl – you’re supposed to be f*cked” by law enforcement professionals. It makes me sick.

This is why books like “All the Rage” are so important. I consider myself to be a very cynical person with very few romantic notions about people but I’m not yet jaded enough to believe that things can’t change. I’m a writer – I know about the power fiction can have on people. When Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” first came out, it had a tremendous impact. My edition contains dozens of quotes from letters Anderson received from victims of sexual assault, so if hundreds of teenagers were brave enough to speak up, maybe there is hope yet.

No rating this time – I merely urge all of you to read this book at your earliest convenience.

 

Favourite quotes

“Anytime something bad happens to a woman close to me, it’s how I think. I have a daughter.”

“It’s amazing how bad you can make the truth sound. As long as you keep it partially recognizable when you spit it out, a crowd will eat it up without even thinking about how hard you chewed on it first.”

“Poison. It’s traveling my veins, turning my blood into something too sick to name. It works its way through me, finds my heart and then – every vital part of me turns off.”

 

Dreamcast

Romy Grey – Ashley Rickards

 

Recommendations

Personally, I believe that everybody should read this book. The two books and the TV series below are also very good at exploring themes like sexual assault and rape culture:

“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Easy” by Tammara Webber (I know it’s a romance novel but it’s one of the few that deals with sexual assault properly)

Veronica Mars – and I don’t just mean the TV series. After I finished “All the Rage”, I wanted to binge on Veronica Mars for the upteenth time. I suggest that you watch the series, then the movie, then read the two books. The latest book deals with rapes of sex workers really well. 

Have you read “All the Rage” or any other Courtney Summers books? What are your favourite feminist contemporaries? Please let me know!

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