by Amanda Maciel
Published by HarperCollins
Genres: Young Adult
Sara is the sidekick of classic high school mean girl, Brielle. In a “ripped from the headlines” story about social media bullying and suicide, Tease asks the question “what if bullies aren’t all one-dimensional?”
The book is told partly in flashback, partly in present-day, with Sara at summer school and dealing with an impending court date. It is a very difficult read being in her head, as she is a deeply unsympathetic and unreliable narrator, as well as coming across as selfish, cowardly, malicious, anxious, and desperate. As the book opens Sara is complaining about Emma Putnam’s suicide “ruining her life”.
“And for no reason I could ever explain in a million years, I flip up my middle finger at her. I’ve never done that before—not for real, not in a non-joking way—and it feels really strange. And kind of cheesy. But at the same time it feels really, like, powerful.”
“Emma was a boyfriend-stealing bitch right up until the day in March when she killed herself.
I didn’t do anything wrong, but she totally ruined my life.
And now the whole world thinks Emma Putnam killed herself because we called her a slut—not because she was a slut. “
At the same time, the author makes strong attempts to humanise and explain Sara’s actions, and we especially see her humanity in her interaction with her little brothers.
We rapidly found out that Sara was a big part of Emma’s bullying. Her emotional torture centred around slut-shaming and mental illness-shaming, though the latter was not as prominent or well examined (a ripe field for more examination, I feel). The book did make some inroads into highlighting how poisonous the societal slut-shaming narrative is – at least for readers who are already on board with relevant feminist narratives. I’m not sure how effective that message (unmediated by, say, a class discussion) would be for those just starting out on the road.
We wonder whether Sara will gain insight as the book progresses, and the outcome, while I think it’s intended to be satisfactory, felt somewhat empty to me. I was also confused throughout about the nature of the legal proceedings against Sara and her co-bullies. One minute the book was talking about lawsuits and settlement, the next about crimes, charges and probation. I found this distracting. I also found Sara’s prolonged whinging about how Emma ruined her life perhaps a little overdone.
Overall Tease is a solid attempt at looking at complicated nature of bullying, how bullies justify it to themselves and make excuses, the process of being easily led, and the fallout of “teasing” for both victims and bullies.
Unlike many other “issue” books, this is less a story for victims, and more a cautionary tale for (potential) bullies. I really don’t think that bullying victims need to be subjected to a long drawn-out lecture about how not all of their torturers are horrible people, and that leaves me feeling rather uncomfortable about how this book might be used in teaching settings. Carefully, I hope, if at all.
Content notes for bullying, suicide, sexual assault, ableist and sexist language.
I received this book from Netgalley for review consideration.