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Book Review: Night School by C. J. Daugherty, or when a love triangle is not really a love triangle

Allie Sheridan’s brother went missing several months back, and her family is not coping well.  When she is arrested for the third time in a year, her parents send her to the mysterious Cimmeria Academy.  Soon strange things start happening and a fellow student is murdered.  As Allie tries to figure out the mystery that is Cimmeria Academy, she discovers that nothing about who she thought she was is true.  In fact, she is surrounded by lies and can’t quite figure out who to believe or trust in this deadly new world of secrets.

The Simple Review

Although it drags in the first half, Night School turns out to be an interesting and compelling read in the second half.  You really want to know what in the world is happening.  Although the blurb and the cover make it look like a paranormal, it does not appear to be.  I say it does not appear to be because this is book 1 and a lot of questions are left unanswered and it is possible that some paranormal doors might still open.  What is happening at the academy is interesting, fairly unique and is relevant to some discussions that some people have today in conspiracy theory land.

Some Quibbles

There are some bizarre character issues that don’t make sense.  When Allie arrives at the academy, it is like a switch is flipped and suddenly she wants to be good and stay and there is really no well developed reason for this change in attitude.  Also, although it has clearly been established that pretty much everyone is lying, when Allie asks people questions she seems all to willing to take their answers at face value when I believe a Trust No One approach is called for.  And there is a lot of Mean Girls background happening that is sometimes interesting, sometimes perplexing, but sadly all too real.

Houston, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Minor spoilers here, but not the big secret spoilers.

The real issues that I can’t get past is the love triangle.  Yes, there is a love triangle.  Which I could overlook if it made any sense at all.  But you see, there are two guys involved, Carter and Sylvain.  Sylvain is the dreamy, swoony guys that all the girls want to be arm candy to.  Except Sylvain is also a well known player and, it turns out, not opposed to getting girls drunk and attempting to rape them to get what he wants.  At one point and time, during a school ball, he takes Allie outside, pushes her against a wall where she receives a bump on her head, and leaves bruises on her arms from holding her down while he tries and takes what he assures Allie she wants to give him.  She is rescued by Carter.  At first she blames herself, then she questions whether or not he put something in her drink, and then – finally – she decides that she is going to make it clear that he is not to come near her.  But then, something happens and he saves her life and it makes her kind of swoon again.  In the end she is left having those niggly possibly fluttery feelings in the back of her mind when she sees him.  This is a real issue to me because I think that once a guy attempts to rape you ALL BETS ARE OFF.  And it is pretty clear what he was doing, how violent it was, how scared and traumatized she is.  So her resurrected feelings make no sense and, I think, are a dangerous message.  One that I can’t embrace.  Reviewer Reynje on Goodreads says it best: “Bloody hell. I can’t believe I have to say this: would-be date-rapists are NOT LOVE INTERESTS. No, okay. Just no. A guy who, by his own admission, encourages a girl to keep downing alcohol, then takes her outside and engages in pushing her into a situation she’s clearly not into, and only stops when he’s interrupted, is not a love interest. Hear that? I have NO SWOONS to give. NO EFFING SWOONS.”

Here’s the thing, I am not against all sexual violence in literature.  I am against it being used when it is unnecessary and I am against it being portrayed in ways that promote rape culture or that undermine the victims.  I don’t want my teenage readers – or my own daughters – to read a book like this during their formative years, where they are just exploring relationships and trying to figure out how to navigate them, and thinking that this type of behavior is okay or that they should try again with a person who does this.  Any type of violence, including sexual violence, is a definite deal breaker.

So, were it not for the unhealthiest and most nonsensical love triangle known to ya lit, I would give this book a 3 for its intriguing and unique premise, the Gothic vibe, and the page-turning second half.  But as it is, I give it 1 star for some character issues and because it perpetuates the dangerous trend of promoting unhealthy relationships and unrealistic love triangles.  Teen readers would probably like it and it would circulate well, but I can not get past that really huge issue. It will be interesting to see what happens in the second book in terms of how Daugherty deals with this incident.  That will make or break this series for me and I reserve the right to re-address this issue and change my review if warranted. 

Night School book 1 by C. J. Daugherty.  Published by Katherine Tegen Books, May 2013.  ISBN: 978-0-06-219385-8.  I reviewed an ARC of this book which I believe I picked up at TLA.