Normally I don’t read or watch anything with rape. I mean, why would I? It’s always, always badly handled. It’s shorthand (and a convenient go-to) for a woman’s character development at best. And that’s a very, very relative best in the trash heap of storytelling choices. More often it’s easy character motivation for a man who for whatever reason cares about what happens to that woman. Usually she is “his” woman, so how dare anyone touch his things.
Even if every fictional instance of rape were done well, still, why would I? I exist in a world where one in four women are raped in their lifetimes. The number goes higher if you separate us by racial groups, like Indigenous women, who are targeted by non-Indigenous men specifically because they can be victimized with even less legal consequence (at least in the U.S., with the separation of tribal and city police forces and the lack of collaboration between the two). I don’t necessarily use fiction to escape the world, but I don’t use fiction to see a grim and unaltered reflection of the same world I see every day.
All that said. I did read Courtney Summers’s All the Rage, knowing what kind of book it was going in. It was recommended, dare I say vehemently, by someone whose opinion and taste I admire. So I said, I’ll give it a few pages.
I finished it in three days, and that’s only because none of those days were weekends.
All the Rage is about Romy Grey, who has already been raped. Her rape is a year past, and what we see are the traumas that always follow: She is a liar. She wanted it. Because she told a friend she liked the boy, it was impossible the boy had raped her. How could she say something like that, and ruin the life of such a promising boy. A boy whose family believes and supports him, a boy who has since graduated high school and gotten a job and who is living his life.
Romy is so angry. Not just about the rape or the unending harassment and re-victimization that has followed, but at the indignities she now sees and understands of being a girl who exists in the world. It was that anger that compelled me from page to page, and what I think was part of the passionate recommendation I got for the book in the first place.
Yes, that. That exactly. That is my anger, reflected back at me. And that kind of reflection is welcome, because rather than showing me things I am already too aware of, it instead says, you are not alone in your rage. It is right to be angry. We should all be angry.
People who follow me on Twitter know I was cheering for Romy early on to take violent revenge against everyone who had wronged her. I doubted the book was going to go that way–if only because it was a really, really long list that would’ve put Romy up there with the top serial killers–but I could see the fantasy in her head, and I could see how cathartic it was. Because the violence she imagined, the longing looks at pocket knives and shoving drunk boys’ faces into the dirt, was power. It was the power to say no and have the boy listen, if for no other reason than he had a knife in his gut. It was the power to make threats stop, if for no other reason than the boy was choking on mud. It was the power to make all the people who called her a liar go away, so the only people who were left were the ones who believed. Romy didn’t have the power to make boys not rape. She also didn’t have the power to know which boy could or could not be trusted. But with violence, she could make the ones who showed her they couldn’t be trusted, stop.
Romy’s progress through the book is her taking power how she can, minus knives and murders. It was a progress I really, deeply feared for, with so many people working against her, but one that ultimately reached a satisfying conclusion. Though the book leaves the full aftermath of Romy’s taking power unclear, I choose to imagine the best possible ending. Because this is fiction, and girls deserve the fantasy of seeing their rage realized and rewarded.