Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

#SVYALit Project: Bone Gap and Survivor Stories, a guest post by author Laura Ruby

One of the best books I have read in 2015 is the upcoming Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. It is a stunning and haunting look at a world where you can easily fall between the gaps. If hard pressed to come up with a if you like, I would say that this is reminiscent of the very best of Ray Bradbury, think Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Today I am honored to have Laura Ruby here guest posting for The #SVYALit Project about Survivor Stories.

I had numerous beta readers for my YA novel BONE GAP—some for their expertise on horses and farms, some for their expertise on myth and language, others simply because they know a good story when they read one and they’d tell me where mine needed work. Out of the dozen-plus people who read this book pre-pub, only one person asked a question that I still can’t get out of my head. Clearly my character Roza is a victim of some sort of sexual violence, he said, but the details are somewhat mysterious. What exactly happened to her?

Well, I told him, Roza didn’t exactly share the specifics with me.

Yeah, okay, maybe this is snotty answer to a perfectly reasonable question from a thoughtful person. And maybe my answer is also a little bit bananas; I wrote Roza’s story, how could she—a figment of my imagination!—choose to keep the gory details of something so terrible entirely to herself?  And wouldn’t it be better for readers to get the whole story in all its humiliating, awful detail?  Don’t we need it to understand her?

What exactly happened?

What exactly?

The idea we are somehow owed the stories of victims of sexual violence is pervasive, and to my mind, rather astonishing, considering our burning hostility toward such victims, our collective tendency toward creepy voyeurism. In one of the more bizarre book reviews I’ve ever read, a reviewer claimed she threw Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist across the room because Gay summed up her own gang rape at the age of twelve like this:

“They kept me there for hours. It was as bad as you might expect.”

The reviewer argues that the details of Gay’s rape are necessary, “Not because I think we need another graphic, sensational account of violence, we need a graphic, realistic account of violence that proves it needs to be taken seriously and stopped.”

And yet, graphic, realistic accounts of sexual violence are everywhere and we still don’t take them seriously. Even photographs and videos don’t stand as proof; we use the evidence to pick apart the stories, to explain away the violence, to discount and dismiss. To blame the victim who got in the car went to the dorm room went to the frat house went to the party went on the date went to the woods with someone she loved.

Even love is used against victims. Even that.

Underneath the belief that we’re owed victims’ stories is the more insidious belief that what the victim really owes us is her/his/their pain. That because you’ve been violated, you must put words to that violation, and through the telling suffer again and again for some greater societal good, or simply to satisfy our morbid curiosity — “OMG, did you hear about…?!”

After the Bad Feminist review appeared, Ms. Gay was moved to write her story in the graphic detail the reviewer had demanded.

I read the whole account with my hand over my mouth.

It was exactly as bad as I expected.

I support rape victims who come forward and bravely recount their stories, as Gay did.  And I support rape victims who choose not to. I’m not a cop or a lawyer, I will not be investigating or prosecuting any cases. I am not owed this kind of confidence. And we, as a culture, haven’t earned this kind of trust. Too often we prove ourselves entirely unworthy of it.

Gay says: “We don’t know how to hear stories about any kind of violence, because it is hard to accept that these things are complicated, that you can love someone who hurts you, that you can stay with someone who hurts you, that you can be hurt by someone who loves you, that you can be hurt by a complete stranger, that you can be hurt.”

In BONE GAP, I didn’t write about the specifics of Roza’s sexual violation because I was more interested in the toll that violation took on her: the all-encompassing shame that sapped her strength and her will, the horror at the string of sociopaths who somehow sensed the nature of her wound and reveled in it, the sheer terror she felt when she finally stumbled into a person she might be able to trust.  Mostly, though, I wanted to write about her refusal to be defined by what was done to her.

If it’s remotely appropriate to ask victims of sexual violence anything, let’s instead ask how the violence affected them, how they have coped since, how we can help.

What exactly happened is that they survived.

Meet our Guest Blogger

Raised in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, Laura Ruby now lives in Chicago with her family. Ruby is also the author of the Edgar-nominated children’s mystery LILY’S GHOSTS (8/03), the children’s fantasy THE WALL AND THE WING (3/06) and a sequel, THE CHAOS KING (5/07) all from Harpercollins. She writes for older teens as well, and her debut young adult novel, GOOD GIRLS (9/06), also from Harpercollins, was a Book Sense Pick for fall 2006 and an ALA Quick Pick for 2007.

Publisher’s Book Description

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

Publishes March 3rd, 2015 from Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062317605

Book Review: Canary by Rachele Alpine

Staying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.

Earlier this year, the world was rocked by the Stuebenville case and it is like, somehow, Alpine knew it was happening and in her premonition wrote about it all, just changing the sport from football to basketball in her teen novel, Canary.  At the same time, we have spent the month of April speaking and Tweeting and blogging about things like Sexual Assault Awareness Month, consent, and the importance of teaching our teens to respect one another not only as sexual beings, but as people period. Canary is an important tool in that process.

Synopsis: It has been 2 years since the death of her mother from cancer has turned Kate Franklin’s home into a quietly desperate place of strangers who speak through post it notes, so when her father gets the coaching job at a prestigious private school Kate sees a chance to start over again.  She is immediately welcomed by the popular crowd, though at times she questions ther motives.  For a while, she is blinded by the glamour that comes from being star players boyfriend, the parties, the friends . . . but occasionally glimpses of the truth creeps in.

We’ve all heard the stories before, about sports stars (and sometimes cheerleading squads) that seem to rule the school to such a degree that even the adults in this world are willing to turn a blind eye to drinking, cheating, and barely passing grades.  Beacon is such a school and, for a while, Kate is a part of it all.  That all changes one night when one of the players attempts to rape her and she is suddenly labelled a slut and an outcast.  And just like the stories we have heard in the news lately, pictures are shared via cell phones, Kate is ostracized, and she is suddenly very desperately alone.

I am not going to lie, there is a little bit of everything thrown into Canary: grief, sexting, drinking, sex, drugs, attempted rape, parental alienation and even a little war anxiety.  It is a mega dose of the after school special, but done pretty effectively and, as we now know all too well, there are cases of this really happening in the world around us.  When even Kate’s father asks her to stay quiet, you know people’s priorities are really screwed up.  But don’t lose hope, Kate finally finds a way to stand up for herself and there is a definite theme of hope at the end.

There is so much to talk about in this book.  The way these teens all pressure each other to do things, like drinking and engaging in sexual activity, with little real care and concern for the actual person.  The bullying.  The slut shaming.  The rape culture.  The entitled sports culture.  All of it real and relevant.

The first part of Canary involves setting Kate up in her new world. There are parties, a new boyfriend, and that high one gets when you are suddenly on top of the world.  It also establishes the culture of Beacon, which can sometimes be a slow process but it essential to building up and then subtly revealing the layers of deceit and master manipulation involved.  The star basketball players hold all the cards, and they know it; the trick is too wield them without showing their hard, which they do quite successfully for a while.  Beacon is an example of a school that puts sports and profits over people and academics, it is disturbing and sinister in the “character” that it builds in these teenage athletes, more so because many of us can name places just like it in the real world.

Whereas Kate seems able to turn a blind eye for far too long, her brother Brett stands in as the voice of reason, reminding her that as his older brother he knows far too well this life she is living, how her friends may not be her real friends, and how he will always be there for her.  And even in the midst of his own personal grief and crisis, he comes through when she needs him most.  This is a sometimes strained but genuine sibling relationship, the shining beacon (no pun attended) in the life of these two teens who are suffering the loss of one parent quit literally while also dealing with the emotional abandonment of another.

Kate’s father, the basketball coach, is a disappointment.  He clearly is not dealing well with the grief of losing his wife and is failing as a parent.  His reaction to Kate’s admission of the sexual assault is so very disappointing. It is hard to imagine any father reacting the way he does, and it is troubling when you think that many parents often do in fact ask their children to keep these types of revelations quiet out of fear.

The way Kate eventually finds her voice is by publishing her online blog/diary, which has been revealed to us throughout the story in poetry form as it happens.  Some of these entries are cutting and poignant and spot on.  It is interesting, too, how Alpine uses current technology to have Kate keep her secrets and then make them public in an effort to save herself from the harassment she is receiving at school after the rumors about her start spreading.  There are definitely a lot ways that this book can be used to spark discussion about technology in the lives of teens, and again – there are some real relevant discussions to be had about sexting, privacy, the distribution of child pornography, etc.

Plot wise, there are no real surprises, but it is a compelling read all the same in part because it does seem like one of those ripped from the headlines episodes of Law & Order SVU and because of the addition of verse journal entries.  Canary helps teens put some emotional components in place with the current headlines they are hearing.  Real, relevant, and very discussable.  3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Canary by Rachele Alpine.  Published in August of 2013 by Medallion Press.  ISBN: 978-160542587-0.

More About Sexual Assault on TLT:
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2