Friday, October 9, 2009

Review: Rage: A Love Story by Julie Ann Peters

Found Via: Amelia Bloomer Project

It seems like October has more than the usual number of month-long celebrations/awareness causes. Of course it's breast cancer awareness month, and yesterday I noted it covers part of hispanic heritage month. But did you also know it's Domestic Violence Awareness Month and LGBT history month?

Rage is an extraordinarily timely book, even leaving aside the month I chose to read it in. It's a complicated novel, a love story as the subtitle says, but so much more than that.

Johanna is absolutely, 100%, head over heels in love with Reeve, a gorgeous yet fragile yet dangerous girl. Who doesn't seem to know that Johanna exists, until Johanna is assigned to tutor Reeve's brother to ensure he graduates.

Reeve is very physical - not only is she constantly caressing or holding on to Johanna, but she (playfully?) slaps and punches her as well.

And then the hits start leaving bruises. Or breaking skin. Reeve says Johanna is stupid for putting up with it, but Johanna knows that it's not Reeve's fault - Reeve is testing her. Reeve just needs to be loved. If Johanna loves her enough, Reeve will be fixed.

The subplots are just as artfully constructed as the relationship between Johanna and Reeve. Johanna's mother died not too long ago, finally forcing her older (and estranged, since Johanna came out) sister, Tessa, and her husband to return from college to take care of Johanna for the last few years of high school. Tessa and her husband are trying to start a family of their own, with lots of difficulty. And Johanna's best friend doesn't seem to make the best relationship decisions, either - and can't seem to make up her feelings about Johanna's sexuality.

I felt devastated as I read this novel. It was almost physically painful to watch Johanna, and I just wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her this is not what a good relationship looks like. Unfortunately, in the real world girls like Johanna are far too common. Want some chilling statistics for your day? "Approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually
abused by a dating partner"
(link leads to a .pdf). And it's not just boys and men beating up women and girls: 11% of lesbians reported violence by a female partner with other studies showing that LGBT teens are just as likely to be victims of dating violence as their heterosexual peers. So Rage is one of those Important Books for teens to read, but its one that can be recommended wholeheartedly, not just as a "problem novel" for kids in trouble to relate to.

Rage also fulfills my longstanding desire to see books about LGBT characters that aren't just about how hard it is to be gay. Johanna has some personal struggles with her sexuality, but it's a small part of the overall narrative. She has made peace with herself long ago (it's other people's reactions to her that are sometimes problematic), so her only angst is about first whether Reeve will ever notice her and second over how she can heal Reeve.

This is a book that I really think every teenager needs to read. It's absolutely horrifying - but then, so is the fact that 20% of high school girls report being abused in their relationships. It's an extremely well-done story about an extremely difficult subject.


Aarti said...

WOW, I can see why you are an evangelist for this book! It seems to hit on so many important and timely themes. Thanks for putting it on my radar! Such a great review of a difficult subject matter.

Tiffany said...

I read this book to GREAT summary! I loved this book but the ending did not clear everything up for me. Great book except for the ending

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