“Girls in those stories are always victims, and I am not. And it doesn’t have anything to do with what Strane did or didn’t do to me when I was younger. I’m not a victim because I never wanted to be, and If I didn’t want to be, then I’m not. That’s how it works. The difference between rape and sex is state of mind. You can’t rape the willing, right?” – 4.5/5 stars!
Attention! This book contains: maple leaves, accusations, red hair, poems, polaroids, the book Lolita, cigarettes, fires, strawberry pajamas, hotel lobbies, kisses in the dark, cute kittens and a lot of secrets.
Well… this was disturbing. But I definitely took a lot from this book and I know I will never forget it. After finishing the book I didn’t know how to feel because even though I was very interested in it, I felt disgusted and uncomfortable at the same time. So I really needed time to collect my thoughts and feelings first so I could write this review.
This book is about a teenage girl who has a secret relationship with her English teacher. Oh, and did I mention they have a THIRTY year age gap? You would think this is a very obvious problem, but it’s not a straightforward and simple book to understand. The goal of the book is exactly that: to be confusing and to make you question things, and maybe encourage you to start a conversation about it. While reading this book you will often wonder “is this abuse?” and “where is the line that defines what is okay and what is not?”, and that’s exactly what makes this book a great book. At first things start out very slowly and the advances made on Vanessa are very subtle, and even when things start to get serious it feels like a normal romance story. He always asks her “is this okay?” and “can I do this?”, which seems like he is asking for her consent and he was respecting her wishes. But I think my wake up call was when Vanessa and Strain had sex for the first time. During the act, Vanessa said:
“For everything he does, he asks permission. “Can I?” before pulling the pajama top all the way over my head. “Is this ok?” before pushing my underwear over (…). After a while he starts asking permission after he’s already done the thing he’s asking about. “Can I?” he asks, meaning can he tug the pajama shorts down, but they’re already off. “Is this ok?” meaning is it ok for him to kneel between my legs, but he’s already there (…)”
This small paragraph brought me to life again and from this moment on, my vision of Strain changed completely. At first, Strain looks very innocent and it looks like he was just unlucky to fall in love with a student, but you really start to understand how manipulative and abusive he really is and how Vanessa is a victim of all his manipulation. Vanessa was often confused about her feelings, and she defended Strain and her relationship to others saying there was nothing wrong about it, but you can tell she knew something was wrong about her relationship.
But even though I felt for her, Vanessa was not a likeable character for me. I know she was manipulated into this relationship with Strain and that I understand, but I just didn’t like her personality and I wasn’t a fan of her attitude in general. She was annoying and bratty, and very arrogant to others. Her attitude and the ending – which felt incomplete to me – were the main causes for me not giving this book five stars.
With that said, I’m very impressed that this is a debut novel. I listened to an interview with the author after reading the book and I was very impressed with her saying that she started to write this book when she was also a teenager like Vanessa. The author made a great job portraying what a girl would feel if they were in Vanessa’s shoes and I applaud her for it.
It’s not a perfect book and I didn’t like some of the aspects about it, but it’s one of those books that stays with you forever. I’m not going to lie, it’s a very uncomfortable, difficult book to read and you should keep that in mind if you decide to pick this up. But I honestly think it’s worth it and I highly recommend it.