Whoever said your teen years were the best of your life was a lying fool.
Either that person wants you to be as miserable as he (or she) was, or he lives in some sort of delusional utopia.
If you don’t believe me, read Tease.
Sara is on the cusp of her senior year, full of plans for the future. Specifically, plans for her future with Dylan (or D-Licious, as some girls call him), her gorgeous baseball playing boyfriend. Sara almost can’t believe she’s lucky enough to be with him, and when he asks her for sex. she complies, if only to ensure that she keeps him.
That, my friends, is completely typical of high school girls.
What, thankfully, is not typical is how Sara reacts to Emma Putnam, a stunning new student who grabs Dylan’s attention. She grabs the attention of a lot of boys, actually, much to the extreme ire of Sara and her BFF, spoiled beauty Brielle. Unaccustomed to not being the center of attention, Brielle has her own motivations for making Emma’s life miserable, although she gives good voice to her primary concern being for Sara.
What these two – and a few of their friends – do to Emma is shocking and horrifying. To call it “bullying” seems almost incomplete or inadequate. It’s torture of the teen variety, with attacks firmly focused on Emma’s misery.
The thing is, though, Emma? Is not quite the innocent victim.
And therein lies the discomfort – the wonderful, agonizing discomfort – of reading this book.
We can all agree that bullying is horrific. It is a crime worth punishing. Sara, Brielle, and their ilk bring all of their town’s denigration and disgust on themselves. What increases our revulsion is that none of them seem to be particularly remorseful. In fact, Sara’s primary concerns seem to be whether or not she and Dylan are still dating and whether or not she and Brielle are still buds. That Emma committed suicide because of how Sara, Brielle, and their co-conspirators treated her is beside the point. Emma suffered? Well, she brought it on herself, didn’t she? Maybe if she hadn’t been such a slut. Maybe if she hadn’t tried to steal Dylan away from his girlfriend. Maybe if she hadn’t courted and cultivated the jealousy and rage directed toward her.
Maybe if Emma had been more likable or engendered more sympathy and empathy? Maybe she’d still be alive.
Of course this sounds irrational and hateful. Of course anyone who thinks this way is to be excoriated to the worst degree. And of course – OF COURSE – no one deserves to be treated as Emma was treated.
…. and here is where Amanda Maciel’s writing becomes so good that it hurts ….
…. Emma didn’t have to try to hard to be the object of such jealousy.
How can we empathize with the victim and her tormentors?
Oh, we can. Sometimes you want to shake Emma so hard that her teeth rattle. And sometimes you want to scream at Sara, Brielle, and Dylan. Sometimes you want to lock all four of them in a room until they learn to get along.
Perhaps if the “adults” around them had done that, Emma would still be alive. As it is, every parent, teacher, and administrator shirks their responsibility. When it is clear that Emma is suffering, no one comes to her aid. The perpetrators are not brought to punishment, and Emma’s agony only intensifies. No one is on her side. Sara observes that when Emma died, she took everyone with her. She may be referring only to the kids, but Sara should know that Emma took the adults too.
In the end, though, one truth remains: no one should be made to suffer as Emma was.
Regardless of how “slutty” or “boyfriend stealing” or “lying” or “cheating” she may be.
No one deserves it.
And that is the lesson Sara has to learn in the hardest ways possible.
I loved this book. It is not easy to read, and it gives no pat answers. You won’t find the characters in a group hug, and you may not like the punishments meted out. Maciel doesn’t offer a twelve step anti-bullying program, nor does she deliver any ringing denunciations or commendations of her characters. They are all guilty.