Genres: Young Adult, Drama, Contemporary, Social Issues
Release Date: April 29, 2014
Publishing House: Balzer and Bray
Number of pages: 336
Source: ARC from Netgalley
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Pre-Order on AMAZON | THE BOOK DEPOSITORY
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. In 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 own 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.
With its powerful narrative, unconventional point of view, and strong anti-bullying theme, this coming-of-age story offers smart, insightful, and nuanced views on high school society, toxic friendships, and family relationships.
“She asked for it.”
“It didn’t have to happen if she didn’t do this… if she didn’t do that…”
“We didn’t kill her. She did this to herself.”
How many times have we seen these excuses being said by bullies and perpetrators, in defense of their horrible actions? How many times have we read these kinds of comments by people on the internet, heavy words easily thrown under the veil of anonymity? Too many times, I bet. Once is already too much. And every time I stumble upon such words, such implications, I feel dark and empty inside, and I wonder if the people in our society are devolving into hideous monsters who have no ounce of compassion in their veins.
So to read a book about bullying, about slut-shaming, from the perspective of a bully and a slut-shamer, was… a different kind of experience. I can’t describe it, but let’s just say that after reading this book, I felt like showering myself ten times over.
Sara Wharton is about to go on trial. A schoolmate of hers, beautiful Emma Putnam with her fiery red hair, was found dead in the garage of her parents’ house. She committed suicide, a tragic end that was the result of months and months of harassing and bullying online and offline from the clutches of Sara, her best friend Queen Bee Brielle, and the rest of their group. Because of her death, Sara believes her life is over. She lost friends. She lost her boyfriend. Her life was ruined. Why does everyone hate her now? She never wanted this to happen. She never wanted Emma to kill herself. All she wanted was for “slutty” Emma to leave her and her boyfriend alone. However, she is about to realize, that maybe, just maybe, things are not that simple.
Tease was hard to read, especially the first 80-90%. I’ve read a lot of bullying books before, but it has always been in the perspective of the victim, making the characters easier to sympathize with. This book was different in that sense, as we see the story unfold from the perspective of a bully, someone who showed a complete lack of remorse of what she has done, someone who couldn’t see beyond herself. She wanted to please everyone in her circle, especially Brielle, to the point that she had sex with her boyfriend so they can have something in common, to the point of bullying Emma just to keep up with Queen Bee. For many years, she has stayed in her best friend’s shadow as her sidekick. Brielle says “skank!”, she echoes it. Brielle says “whore!”, she repeats it. Brielle calls someone a “bitch slut”, she doesn’t hesitate to call that someone the same names, too. And every time she does, she feels powerful. Like she finally has an advantage over someone. Like she can control them through the words she uses, through the actions she does. She gets a thrill out of it. Who knew making someone fear you was so easy? Just say a few things on Facebook, make fake profiles on Twitter, and you can change someone’s outlook in life. Just with a click. Just with a few minutes. And then that someone turns up dead the next day.
You can see why I felt dirty while reading Sara’s thoughts. She was so hard to like. I hated how for the majority of the book, she kept thinking she wasn’t in the wrong. So what if she bullied Emma? Emma started it! It didn’t have to happen if Emma didn’t steal her boyfriend! Emma didn’t have to end her life if she didn’t allow what happened to affect her! Excuses after excuses after excuses… her internal monologue was largely disturbing and uncomfortable, and I thought to myself, “is this what bullies think when they get caught? That it’s the victim’s fault for being bullied?”
And the thing is, it’s probably what some of them think. And it’s probably encouraged by their peers, and because of that, they find themselves blameless. It illustrates to us the possible reasons why there is so much victim-shaming and slut-shaming up to this day. Everyone knew Emma was being bullied, and yet no one really stopped it. Since Sara and Brielle were at the top of the high school food chain, almost everyone followed their lead. Not to mention, the lack of parental figures to help the teenager’s morals also was a factor. If there’s no adult to lead you, to help you, to answer your questions, you turn to your peers. It’s not always the case, but sometimes, they’re the bad influence.
There was a scene later in the book where Sara’s absent father was scolding her for not being accountable for her actions. He reprimanded her for being such a child, and that she should grow up. Sara, hurt, replied with tears (non-verbatim), “Maybe I am a child, have you ever thought of that? There was no one there to help me grow up.”
One thing is for sure, this book made me think a lot about today’s social issues. As a culture, as a society, there is still much for us to learn, so much for us that we need to be aware of. From bullying, to victim-shaming, to slut-shaming… these are things that still run rampant up to this day, and it’s such a shame that acts of kindness are more the exemption than the rule. But the thing is, this toxic world that we live in, there are many factors that contribute to its being poisonous. It’s true that it’s up to the person to choose whether or not to make life hell for someone else, but we’ve to stop and pause for a while and think why such options seem better for certain people. We have to look at the greater picture. We need to stop thinking small and start thinking big. There are societal structures that could be really improved on to make our environment a better place. It also has to start in the family, the basic unit of society. We need to start being more compassionate. We can’t assume that everyone is strong enough to take it all in. We need to start putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes before we do anything that could potentially emotionally hurt them. We need to start seeing others as humans, not as rocks void of feelings.
All in all, Tease was a hard book for me to read, and even harder to review. So many thoughts are running through my head, both positive and negative, and I’m unsure if I was able to put them across in this review. But I always appreciate it if a book can push me to think critically and philosophize. Difficult this book may seem to read, it definitely opened my eyes to a very bitter and sad reality. I’ll conclude this review with this:
Suicide is stupid? You wanna know what is stupid? Hurting someone so much emotionally, that they think suicide is the only answer
— Macklemore (@ItsMacklemore) March 19, 2013
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