Some Boys by Patty Blount is the story of a girl who is raped by a school sports star, Zac, and then is ostracized by everyone around her and branded a slut. It is a familiar story, we hear about it far too often in the press. It’s an important story, reminding us that we must keep having discussions with teens about what sexual violence and sexual consent is and what it isn’t.
It is also a story in which a girl who is raped is labelled a slut and ostracized by her community rather than supported. Part of the reason this happens is because is that many of our school systems value sports – which can generate income and good press – over people, so we are often willing to overlook the bad behavior of our sports stars. It’s cognitively easier for us to blame the victim and dismiss the severity of the crime than it is for us to break down the ideals we build up in our minds about these men and women we declare “stars”; we write cultural narratives that idolize our subjects and when we get information that contradicts that we have such a difficult time with this incongruent information that it’s easier for us to deflect blame elsewhere. This is one of the reasons why we continue to talk about slut shaming. As Christa Desir points out repeatedly, slut shaming is one of the reasons that more victims of sexual violence don’t come forward and seek the help they need and deserve. They know that if they do, there is a chance that they will be branded with the scarlet S and they think it is easier to suffer in silence than to come forward and risk the shame and outright bullying that can and far too often does occur.
But let’s back up, let’s talk about the book.
Some Boys is told in alternating voices, the voices of Grace and Ian. They are both forced to spend some time coming in to the empty school to clean out lockers as punishment for various bad behavior.
Grace is already at this point hurting and reeling from the after affects of her rape. She is shunned by everyone at school, branded a slut. Her former best friends are actively tormenting her. Not even her family seems to believe what she says happened.
Ian is the best friend and team mate of Zac, the boy that Grace claims raped her. He struggles to live up to his fathers demands and expectations and to keep his spot on the team.
As Grace and Ian spend time together cleaning lockers, they are forced to interact. They begin to see that they don’t really know much about each other and through these conversations, Ian in particular is forced to open his eyes about a wide variety of things, including the events of what happened and how it is all affecting Grace.
There are two things that I genuinely loved about this book:
1. Ian’s dad
When Ian talks to his dad about what Grace claims happened, he is certain that he knows his best friend and of course he couldn’t do the things Grace accuses him of. But it is Ian’s dad who reminds Ian that we don’t always know people as well as we think we do, that sometimes people have very different lives behind closed doors. He tells him a story about a couple that he used to know, that they were close with, and how one night the woman showed up at their house late at night because the husband, one of his best friends, had beaten his wife. Even though Ian’s dad is very demanding of his son, he also encourages him to be kind to Grace, to give himself room to accept that things may have happened much different than Ian has been told. And in the end, when all of the events unfold, he tells Ian that he is proud of him, even when Ian’s actions dramatically impact some of the decisions he must make about his future.
2. Grace’s big protest
Not too long ago, a girl named Jada took a bold stand on social media and in the press by standing up to those who were mocking her rape story. She chose to go public, which is not something that everyone can or even should do. But she chose a path for herself that was empowering to her, and for some in the future it might make a difference. As I read Some Boys, I couldn’t help but think of Jada.
Just when Grace thinks that her and Ian art starting to become genuine friends, Ian rebuffs her at school. He doesn’t want to be publicly associated with the school pariah. So Grace stages a protest. In this protest, she stands on a chair in the middle of the school hallway and speaks out against the way our culture talks about women, she challenges the boys to think about the way they talk about and treat their girlfriends, she suggests that part of the reason they all can claim she is a slut after being raped is because of the unfair cultural standards. Grace’s protest in the hallways of her school reminds me somewhat of Jada, both of them choosing to stand up and fight against the way that others have responded to their claims of being raped.
I have mixed feelings about the end of Grace’s protest. Grace tries to make her point by wrapping herself in an abundance of pink material from head to toe so you can only see her eyes, she is trying to take what she thinks she knows about a culture that is not her own by donning Muslim dress to help prove her point. Instead, she ends up offending another student. On the one hand, there is a sense that in this cause heavy book it is almost one point too many, but on the other hand it is a strong example of some of the dialogue we see happening today when discussing things like feminism and rape culture. Even in today’s cultural dialogue about feminism and rape issues, many people groups feel marginalized as the conversation is still dominated by white women and their cultural perspective. In addition, it is a reminder that although many feminists see traditional Muslim dress as a sign of oppression, many Muslim women – many Muslim feminists – embrace the very same traditional dress that others may consider oppression, and we don’t get to decide that for others. Kirkus Reviews said this about that scene: “A scene in which Grace dons Muslim garb to protest the way girls are judged by their appearances and offends Khatiri, an Afghani classmate, feels out of step with the rest of the book, particularly when Khatiri later shows up to offer Grace support”, (7/15/2014).
Although some will see Some Boys as Grace’s story, I think it is Ian who is given the stronger story arc. It is Ian that must confront hard choices about what it means to be a friend, a team mate, a man. It is Ian that must let go of what he thinks he knows about the people around him and choose to truly see. And it is Ian who is challenged to examine himself and consider how he thinks about and treats the women in his life.
Grace is broken and struggling, as anyone would in her situation, and yet she shows moments of tremendous strength and courage. But she also considers changing schools, she considers suicide – you can feel the tremendous emotional toll that this has taken on her.
We even learn some things about Zac, the perpetrator, and what we see in him is a stark reminder of the extreme entitlement that some people feel. It is this culture of entitlement that we need to do a better job of breaking down if we want to genuinely create a world with less sexual violence. This book coupled with Canary by Rachele Alpine and Inexcusable by Chris Lynch can help us have robust dialogue about the toxic culture of gender norms that Eric Devine discusses in his post yesterday. Gender norms, entitlement, a culture of celebrity, even in our schools, are all parts and pieces of the sexual violence discussion and these books give us a framework to discuss them and break them down at a time when teens are making important decisions about who they want to be and how they want to live their lives.
Some Boys has a currency of events that speak to our times. There are elements of the stories we are reading about in the media on the pages of this book, and yet talking about them through the framework of story allows us to talk about them in a zone of safety; We’re not talking about real people, but we’re talking about all too real situations. Timely, relevant and discussable, Some Boys manages to tackle difficult topics with engaging characters. Definitely recommended.
Coming in August from Sourcebooks Fire. I picked up a copy of this book at ALA Annual for review. ISBN: 9781402298561