Tease by Amanda Maciel, to be published May 2014 by Hachette Children’s Books.
Read: March 2014
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary
Source: Publisher – this does not affect my opinion of the book.
Goodreads Synopsis: Emma Putnam is dead, and it’s all Sara Wharton’s fault. At least, that’s what everyone seems to think when Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, are criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma’s shocking suicide. But Sara is sure she hasn’t done anything wrong, because Emma brought it on herself. Sara is adamant that she was the victim – not Emma. Inspired by a true story, TEASE is a thought-provoking must-read that will haunt you long after the last page.
First off, I just want to touch on the topic of this novel and discuss it a little before I go into my review of the book. As with all readers, an individual’s thoughts, interpretations and opinions on a specific book will be formed by previous life experiences, so I think it’s important to share a little about my views on bullying.
I’m pretty sure bullying/teasing has been an aspect of almost everyone’s life growing up, it was certainly an aspect of mine, particularly between the ages of 12-15. Sweeping the effects and consequences of bullying aside with statements like, “It happens to everyone”, “It’s just part of growing up”, and “That’s what happens at High School”, does not make it any more acceptable or easier to deal with, but that seems to be many people’s standard response. This response is understandable to a certain degree, as I struggle to see how bullying and teasing can be completely stamped out. It seems to be something a lot of children and teenagers do almost instinctively during their formative years, and with any luck most young people grow out of it when they reach adulthood (I say most people).
This is a hugely complicated arena that affects each individual sufferer in an entirely different way, but I think books like this, particularly ones that are based on true stories, might help young people to understand the long-term consequences of bullying behaviour, and why it should never be accepted. So, moving on to my thoughts on this book:
I finished Tease in one sitting and that’s pretty unusual for me. The chapters alternating from flashbacks to present day was brilliant as it really kept you guessing as the story unfolded, and the pace had me hooked. I had to know exactly what happened, and what the consequences were going to be as a result.
When I first started reading I absolutely and completely disliked Sara, Brielle, and their entire gang (which I guess is maybe the point?). Sara’s chapters have a conversational tone, and initially the text is filled with stereotypical teenager-isms – “like”, “I mean”, “I guess” and “I don’t know” are peppered consistently throughout the first lot of chapters. I found this off-putting at the start but continued with the story. From the middle to the end of the book this somewhat annoying habit practically disappears, and it becomes apparent that this could be part of Sara’s character development, which once you see past the annoyance, is a nice touch.
The story is told by the bullies, which is a new perspective for me, as usually books on bullying are from the point of view of the victim. It took Sara quite a while to feel any sort of responsibility and to realise that Brielle’s hold on her had a part to play in the devastating demise of Emma Putnam, which didn’t make her a likable character. In fact, she came across as incredibly self-absorbed, and oddly even Emma Putnam (the victim) isn’t an overly likable character either. I do like how the book gives you an insight into the personal lives of the bullies and their relationships with their families, as it does go some way in helping the reader to understand the need for Sara to feel involved in the clique-culture and popularity hierarchy.
I got a little emotional by the end of this book, and there is one particular scene (a letter) that tugged on my heart-strings. Other than that I found the ending to be a little rushed and the turn of events happened too quickly, it appears Sara thinks she entirely blameless until the last few pages of the book and I would’ve liked to have seen her development and maturity in more detail. You are left with the feeling that there was no real lesson learned.
“I was someone with her I guess – I was popular, or close enough to it. But I was toxic. We were toxic.”
“My mouth is dry, my stomach is in knots, my life is over, my heart is broken. I start to write.”
Although this review may seem negative (probably difficult to avoid with the subject matter), Tease really is thought-provoking and worth a read. Amanda Maciel took a risk with this one, and readers will either appreciate it or hate it. This book may not be what you expect, or even want, from a book about bullying, but there’s something about it that feels real, and just because “real” can be uncomfortable that doesn’t mean we can ignore it and pretend it isn’t so.
While the characters may not always be likable, many readers probably won’t have to look very far to find similar individuals in their past (or present) schools and teenage years. Sara’s relationship with her parents adds another dimension to the book, and you will find yourself rooting for her and a certain Mr Carmichael…