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Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, a guest post by Some Boys author Patty Blount

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

How many times have we heard this phrase? 
In my latest novel, Some Boys, main character Grace Collier tells her best friends what Zac McMahon did to her that night at a party. Zac McMahon, captain of the lacrosse team, movie-star gorgeous and Mr. popular. Grace wears sexy clothes, too much makeup, and has a big mouth. 
They don’t believe her. They think she’s lying and take his side –  Isn’t it ironic that stories like Grace’s always come down to who looks the part
When I was researching the topics covered in this novel, I found a website called Project Unbreakable. It was started by a photographer named Grace Brown when she was just nineteen years old. Since its start, the website has collected and displayed over two thousand photographs of survivors of sexual assault and rape holding up signs bearing quotes that hurt them – most are from their attackers, but many are from their friends, relatives, the police, doctors, and judges – all doing their best to put blame where it does not belong – on the victims. 
I spent hours exploring this website, reading every poster, looking at every survivor’s picture. I named my heroine Grace because of this website. And when I reached the last image, one thing became abundantly clear to me. 
There is no part, no typical victim. It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you’re gay or straight, single or in a relationship. It doesn’t matter what you wear or what you said. It doesn’t matter where you went or what time of day it was. 
But lots of people will try to tell you all that stuff does matter. They’ll try to tell you it’s your fault. Do not accept it. Do not believe it. 
That’s an excuse, a defense mechanism, a way to explain the unthinkable – that yes, even good kidsare capable of this despicable crime. 
If your friends tell you a story like this, be the friend who does not ask them what they wore, how much they had to drink, or whether they’d already slept with that person before. Be the friend who holds out her arms and says, “It wasn’t your fault. Let me help you.”
Some Boys by Patty Blount
Book Description: Some girls say no. Some boys don’t listen.
When Grace meets Ian, she’s afraid. Afraid he’ll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. After she accuses Zac, the town golden boy, of rape, everyone turns against her. Ian wouldn’t be the first to call her a slut and a liar.
Except Ian doesn’t reject her. He’s the one person who looks past the taunts and the names and the tough-girl act to see the real Grace. He’s the one who gives her the courage to fight back.
He’s also Zac’s best friend.

Patty Blount works as a software technical writer by day and novelist by night. Dared by her 13-year-old son to try fiction, Patty wrote her first manuscript in an ice rink. A short version of her debut novel, Send, finished in the top ten of the Writer’s Digest 79th Annual Writing Competition.

Buy Links:

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1peeK9a

Book Review: Some Boys by Patty Blount (The #SVYALit Project)

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

Can you forgive the bully? A guest post by author Patty Blount

There’s a t-shirt popular among writers that says, “Writers block: when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you.” (Note to self: buy t-shirt.) It’s a well-accepted fact that writers are probably the only group of people who DON’T panic when they hear voices in their minds.

At any given time, there are about half a dozen characters who are jabbering away in my head and will not shut up until I write them out.  To date, Dan, the main character from SEND (coming August, 2012 from Sourcebooks Fire), was the hardest character for me to exorcise for a couple of reasons. First, he was male and I’d never written a male lead before, especially not from the first person POV. Second, he was obviously NOT a hero – he’d done a terrible thing and even though he was paying for it, his crime hit a bit too close to home for me.

Dan started talking to me after some real-life angst converged with a day job directive I got just before I came down with a cold.  It started back in 2004 when my oldest son was in sixth grade. He’d hit puberty early and was already shaving. He suffered from bad acne, wore glasses and braces, and stood a foot taller than his classmates. They all thought it was great fun to torment him over his differences.  It went on from September until April when my son finally blurted out he no longer wanted to live.  Ironically, I am writing this post the night before my son’s twentieth birthday. Every birthday he’s had – and ever will have – celebrates not just his birth, but his triumph. (There are lasting scars, even with the help we obtained from his teacher, the principal, and therapist.)  I am convinced that had Facebook and Twitter existed back then, I would be telling you a very different story today.

I was working on a contemporary romantic trilogy at the time and had just finished book 1 in the series. I started book 2, but had to shelve it so I could focus on Dan, whose voice was suddenly speaking louder than all the others in my mind. I knew only the barest of facts – that he was once a bully.  When my new boss challenged me to incorporate social media into my work, I remember blinking and asking, “What’s a twitter?”  I did the research and learned not only how people use social networks, but also how they abuse them.  And the voice in my head said, “I did that.”

I wrote a few test chapters and one day, while I was home sick with a bad cold, I caught some daytime talk show I usually never watch. The focus was ‘sexting’ – a crime popular with teenagers who had absolutely no clue they were breaking any laws.  And that’s where it got really interesting… turns out, there WERE no laws to address abuse of the Internet, and cell phone network (though many laws have since been enacted) so some teens were convicted of distributing child pornography and listed on the national sex offense registry. This so profoundly frightened me, I IMMEDIATELY sat both of my sons down when they got home from school that day, and set forth the laws for proper cell phone use.  I drowned another cold capsule and stretched out for a nap and that’s when Dan told me what he’d done.

“I clicked Send,” he whispered. “How was I supposed to know that picture would go viral? How was I supposed to know Georgie would kill himself?” (Georgie was changed to “Liam” in the published version.)   

When one of the teens profiled on the talk show explained how he had to move away because people think he’s a violent rapist after they learn he’s on the sex offense registry, Dan scoffed and said he’d moved four times and even had to change his name.  “Tough to live, knowing what I did.” He told me.

That’s when I grabbed a notebook and started brainstorming. Living with guilt became my theme. How would a kid deal with that kind of remorse?  What about his parents? His friends?  What kind of man would he grow up to be?

The result of all that brainstorming was the first draft of SEND, in which main character Daniel Clements is a mid-twenties motivational speaker, who lives out of hotel rooms between speaking engagements. He talks to high school and middle school students about his experiences in juvenile detention and on the sex offense registry and eventually meets a pretty guidance counselor who turns out to be his victim’s sister.

In early 2010, a former literary agent pointed out a fatal flaw. “You’ve got what is essentially a teenage problem in a story built around adult characters.”

Uh oh.

So I rewrote the whole book – this time, with Dan back in his teens starting over in one of the four new towns he’d moved to. (In the published version, I changed Dan’s name to Ellison after my editor pointed out that Clements was uncomfortably close to Clementi, the name of the Rutgers student who leaped from the George Washington Bridge.)  

When I started writing this story, it was pure fiction. In the years that have passed, my plot has sadly become a headline that repeats with disturbing regularity. Still, I wonder how many of these bullies are truly murderous and how many are like Dan – just dumb kids who did something they can’t undo, can’t take back, can’t make right?  I wanted that part of Dan – the guilty part, the remorseful part – to come through.

It was a challenging project…  After all my family had been through, I wanted to hate Dan. He was a bully, after all, and easy to blame for my son’s issues. I didn’t want to write him and I damn well didn’t want to like him. But even after all the torture I’ve heaped on him in this story, I couldn’t help doing either. In the end, I forgave Dan.

I’m not, however, ready to forgive my son’s tormentors.

Would you?  Would you be able to forgive your bully, or the bully who nearly drove your child to suicide?
About Patty Blount
Native New Yorker Patty Blount writes instruction guides by day and novels by night. On a dare by her oldest son, Patty wrote her first novel in an ice rink during his hockey practice. Though never published, Penalty Killer was the subject of so many seventh grade book reports, the English teacher requested a copy and later returned it, covered in red ink. Powered by a serious chocolate obsession, Patty is always looking for great story ideas. Her boss suggested she learn about social media so Patty began researching Twitter, LinkedIn, and other networks, and had bad dreams about pictures going viral. She wrote her debut novel, Send, when she woke up. (Okay, not really.)
Patty lives on Long Island with her family, a fish, and lots of books.
About Send: Keeping his secret is making him crazy… revealing it could get him killed. Look for “Send”, a young adult novel coming in August 1, 2012 from Sourcebooks, Inc.

It only took one click.

Read more TLT posts about bullying, including a booklist and a look at 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher here.