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Book Review: The Project by Courtney Summers

Publisher’s Book Description:

“The Unity Project saved my life.”

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying–and failing–to prove it.

“The Unity Project murdered my son.”

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its charismatic and mysterious leader, Lev Warren, he proposes a deal: if she can prove the worst of her suspicions about The Unity Project, she may expose them. If she can’t, she must finally leave them alone.

But as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members, and spends more time with Lev, it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her–to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.

Welcome to The Unity Project.

The next pulls-no-punches thriller from New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author Courtney Summers, about an aspiring young journalist determined to save her sister from a cult.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Let’s start with I love all things Courtney Summers and this book does not disappoint. Courtney Summers dives deep into the female psyche and explores the complex nature of growing up in a patriarchal society that puts young girls at risk in a variety of ways. She also does a great job of looking at the complex mental and emotional states of young people, which is why her books resonate with readers of all ages.

The Project does all of things and looks specifically at the idea of a cult, making it one of the timeliest books to come out in 2021. At the risk of alienating some readers I feel like this book really captures the zeitgeist of the current political landscape that we have just seen play out in the 2020 election where there has often been a very real dismissal of provable facts that has come at a great harm to a lot of people, including 250,000 Americans dead from a deadly global pandemic. So this deep dive into the psyche and what makes someone fall into a cult is perhaps the most necessary reading of our time.

Another thing Summers does well is to present us as readers with a complex female character that is realistic. What I mean is, she’s not always likable or perfect in any way, which is true of every one of us. Lo’s journey is complicated and she is a rich, rewarding character that takes a journey through a life many of us could never imagine. There is a tremendous burden placed on Lo because of other people’s external expectations and part of what motivates her is trying to fill shoes she never asked to have to wear. That, more than anything, will resonate with teens who are trying to figure out how to become more fully themselves while living with the expectations of others.

Perhaps the most unpopular I would share about this book is that I don’t think it should technically be classified as Young Adult (YA), as it fits more solidly into what should be the New Adult (NA) category had that ever taken off the way that it should have. None of the characters in this book are in high school, they are all at or over the age of 19, and they live independently, though not necessarily successfully. Having said that, I think that teens will in fact read it, just as teens have always read adult books. In the truest sense of the word this is a crossover novel as it will appeal to a wide age of readers.

This is a moving portrait of loss, self discovery, and sisters trying to find their way back to one another. It’s a passionate exploration of how the mind works and how others can manipulate it for their cause. It’s suspenseful, rich and illuminating.

The Project releases February 2021 from Wednesday Books and it is highly recommended.

Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers


As a librarian and reader I’m often asked if I were to recommend the one book that everyone should read, what book would it be? The truth is, this is an impossible question because there is never just one book everyone should read because one book can’t touch on all of the things that we need to be reading about, thinking about, or talking about. But in the year 2018, one of the issues that we should be talking about and, thankfully, are is the female experience in our culture. The #metoo movement has asked us all to really take a moment and consider what it means to be female and what our experiences are like and the book Sadie is a perfect springboard wrapped in a genuine crossover thriller that helps us take the leap into these conversations.

To be clear, Courtney Summers has never shied away from talking openly, frankly, realistically and with no holds barred about what it means to be female. I sincerely believe that one day when this time frame is considered history and high school and college classes are asked to dissect the great feminist literature of our time period, Courtney Summers will be one of the authors on those syllabi. She will have earned that place rightfully. If you aren’t reading Courtney Summers and don’t have her titles on your shelves, you are doing an extreme disservice to today’s readers and thinkers and to the female experience. I recommend This is Not a Test, an exploration of depression and suicidal tendencies in a zombie infested world, and All the Rage, an exploration of rape culture, privelege and poverty if you need a place to begin.

Sadie blends contemporary interest in podcasts with the mystery/thriller genre and explores what it means to be female from two competing points of view. On the one hand, we see the main character, Sadie, trying to right the wrongs done to her and her family by men. It’s a revenge fantasy road trip that highlights the long term effects of childhood trauma in explosive ways. On the other, we see an adult male journalist who is forced to grapple with a truth his privilege has allowed him to ignore about men, abuse, and women. He starts on this journey being asked to please find out what happened to Sadie, and in the process he is forced to realize what happens to far too many of our young girls. This is a genuine crossover novel in that it is told from both a teen and an adult perspective, and both voices are necessary and moving in the telling of this tale. Both voices are knit together with a superb craftsmanship that explodes in profound insight and heartbreaking truths. No one walks away from this story the same as when they began it, which I think readers will find true for them as well. You will be changed by the pages of this book.

If you are familiar with previous works by Courtney Summers, you will not be surprised to learn that this contains some very real talk about sexual violence and abuse. And if you are the survivor of sexual violence, you will recognize so many of the small moments, the tells, in this story that are used to slowly build a picture of what it is life to live with the daily fear and aftermath of sexual violence. You will recognize the men and the ways in which they act. You will recognize the girls and the ways in which they act. And your heart will break at the raw, honest truth. It does have the very real potential to be triggering for some, so survivors may want to practice self care while reading.

Earlier this year, I spoke at length about the book The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez and how important that book was in how it portrayed the long term effects of childhood trauma. Sadie does this as well, and quite successfully. Together, these two books remind us all that we are living with and among generations of youth and adults who have been forever altered by the actions of others and the trauma it has produced in their lives. I believe that moving forward this is the number one issues that we should all be discussing regarding our physical and mental health and things like success in education and the opioid crisis. I believe that the long term effects of childhood trauma and mental health is a profound and neglected issue that our society needs to begin addressing. We should be testifying before congress, demanding better laws to help punish perpetrators and protect future victims, and demanding better mental health care and coverage. Together, these two books help us to understand better the very real long term effects of childhood trauma. We need these books and more like them to help us address this issue.

Sadie also spends a lot of time discussing what it means to be female in general: the trials, the tribulations, the objectification and sexualization, the profound bias and confusion and anger and fear. We see it a lot in Sadie’s story, but we also see it in the eventual awakening of West McCray. West is a man of privilege who must eventually come to understand an experience outside of his own; his eyes are opened and this journey is important. In the midst of the #metoo movement many men are asking, what is my part in all of this and what is it I should do? Some men respond that they care about the issue because they are husbands or fathers or sons, which is a bad response because it means they only care about the basic humanity of women because of the women they love. What we need is a huge cultural shift that recognizes the fundamental humanity of and equality of women. We need men to care about women’s issues not because it might effect the women they love, but because it effects their fellow human beings. Women’s health and safety matter because they are human, not because of who loves them or wants to claim them. West McCray is forced to take that journey and wrestle with these issues by diving into the mystery of what happened to Sadie.

From a craftsmanship point of view, Summers writing is taut and precise and profound. The structure of the story works incredibly well in slowly revealing all of the details and knitting the two narratives together. And the additional layer of the podcast was the perfect creative choice, especially in our current times where podcasts are so popular. You can even listen to the podcasts, which is a brilliant marketing strategy: Introducing “The Girls” Podcast | Macmillan Library.

I can’t tell you that this is the one book you should read this year, because I think you should read many. I think you should read a lot of books that cover a lot of topics and make you think about a lot of things. But I can tell you that I think hands down this should be one of the books you read this year. I believe it will justifiably be a bestseller. It will be a great discuss group book. It will entertain, thrill, anger, upset and move readers. It has the potential to become a classic of our times. In short, I highly recommend this book.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Take 5: Some of the Best Feminist YA on Rape Culture in Quotes

Sometimes there are books that I finish and I immediately think, I want my teenage daughter to read this book right away. Today I am sharing 5 of those books that are specifically about sexual violence, rape culture, and the ways we talk about and view women’s bodies. Some of them talk about female friendship, which is also important to to me. Some of them breakdown stereotypes, such as two of the titles (Exit, Pursued by a Bear and Moxie) which look at cheerleader stereotypes. This list is by no means an exhaustive list, as I had to keep it trimmed down to just five titles. So I put some parameters on myself: It had to be contemporary, which means books like Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future could not be included. It had to specifically speak towards the topic of sexual violence and rape culture, which leaves off a lot of other powerful and important feminist novels. I wanted the titles to be newer, which means that Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is not on this particular list, but it is definitely on expanded lists and for good reasons.


If you want to add a book to this list in the comments, please share a quote from the book, the title and the author. Why in quotes? Sometimes, I like to share some of my favorite quotes so that the power of the novel can speak to you itself.

feminist1All the Rage by Courtney Summers


“My dad used to say makeup was a shallow girl’s sport, but it’s not. It’s armor.”

Publisher’s Book Description

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?

exit-pursuedExit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston


“If you think I’m going to apologize for being drugged and raped, you have another thing coming.”

Publisher’s Book Description

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of… she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

feminist2The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis


“But boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.”

Publisher’s Book Description

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

moxieMoxie by Jennifer Mathieu


“This is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or an equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favorite word. Because really all it is is girls supporting each other and wanting to be treated like human beings in a world that’s always finding ways to tell them they’re not.”

Publisher’s Book Description

An unlikely teenager starts a feminist revolution at a small-town Texan high school in the new novel from Jennifer Matheiu, author of The Truth About Alice.


Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!

nowheregirlsThe Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed


“‘The thing is,’ Rosina says, ‘people don’t want to hear something that’ll make their lives more difficult, even if it’s the truth. People hate having to change the way they see things. So instead of admitting the world is ugly, they shit on the messenger for telling them about it.”

Publisher’s Book Description

Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.

Other Feminist YA Lists You Should Definitely Check Out

50 Crucial Feminist YA Novels – The B&N Teen Blog

34 Young Adult Books Every Feminist Will Love – BuzzFeed

100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader | Bitch Media

Booklist: Sexual Assault, Rape, and Dating Violence in Young Adult

YA Books About Rape Culture, Fight Against Sexual Assualt | Teen.com

When Talking About Sexual Consent, YA Books Can Be A Parent’s Best Friend

You may also want to check out our complete index for the Sexual Violence in YA Literature Project:

SVYALit Project Index



#SVYALit: ALL THE RAGE and rape culture, Trish Doller interviews author Courtney Summers

Today the book All the Rage by Courtney Summers is finally released into the world. It’s a great book. It’s an important book. It’s the type of book that encourages dialogue about important and very relevant cultural issues. While Rolling Stone is retracting their UVA rape story and causing many to question the reality of rape culture, many people are being reminded once again that sharing your story about sexual assault does not come without a huge, personal price. I read All the Rage sometime last year and have been waiting a really long time for this day to finally come. Not, however, as long as author Courtney Summers has. But today is that glorious day and I encourage everyone to please go read this book. As part of our ongoing #SVYALit Project, co-host (and author extraordinaire) Trish Doller is interviewing Courtney Summers. Stay tuned until the very end because we are giving away a copy of the book.

About All the Rage:

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?


The #SVYALit Interview


Q: Where did the idea for All the Rage come from?
I’ve been working on All the Rage since around the time I was working on Some Girls Are, so–2009, 2010. The plot changed a lot over the years. I spent a long time trying to figure out how I wanted to angle the story but at its core, it was always about rape culture and there were always two girls disappearing on the same night.
Q: I’ve seen you tweet about how long you worked on the book. What took so long? (Note: I’m not asking in a snarky way. Talk us through the process of building this book.)
All the Rage was an extremely difficult book for me to write for a lot of reasons. It’s one of my most ambitious novels and I really pushed myself with it. When approaching a subject like rape culture, it’s very important to be conscious of what you’re bringing to a larger conversation; I took the long way around trying to figure out the plot–I’d think I had it, I’d draft it, and then I’d realize I didn’t have it at all. Each time I started over, I felt like I was failing, which wasn’t the right way to look at it, but the dent in my confidence slowed things down a little. Finally, All the Rage was the first book I sold after my father died–it was just a few months following his passing–and I, naively, didn’t anticipate how much it would affect my writing. I was a different person than I was before he died and it changed my process. I pretty much had to relearn it.
Q: What do you say to someone who says “Stop writing teen rape books, please!”?
No. And I say no because when someone says, “Stop writing teen rape books, please!” what they’re telling me to do is stop talking about rape culture, about the consequences of rape culture, about victim-blaming, about consent, about the ways we fail victims and survivors of sexual violence. I won’t stop talking about that. Silence perpetuates rape culture. Talking about it raises awareness and makes demands on us to to do better. We need to do better.
Q: You’ve talked before about likability and I know I am tired as hell of people who can’t sympathize with my character because she is a bitch/slut/bad daughter. Where do you think this whole notion of unlikeable characters being unworthy of sympathy comes from? What makes society believe only “good” people deserve justice?
When I talk about likability, I’m specifically talking about it as it relates to female characters and how their gender might affect reader perceptions of their likability. (Which is not to say male characters aren’t judged and deemed unworthy of sympathy, as well.) We have so many gender-related expectations of how girls should be–they must always be nice, reserved, non-violent, polite, and on and on–that as soon as a girl starts operating outside of those parameters, we becomes very hard on them. I feel the more a female character challenges those expectations, the higher the chance they will come across as unlikable to people. I think when girls challenge those expectations, we become uncomfortable. When we’re uncomfortable, often our first instinct is to punish and reject the source of that discomfort. Now, the source is really our culture–we need to take a hard look at why we box girls in this way–but not everyone recognizes that or wants to. So our first response is to deny these girls our understanding, or feel less obligated to try to understand them.
Q: I love the idea of Romy using nail polish and lipstick as armor. Was that an early choice or did it germinate as you were writing?
Thank you! I went through so many drafts of All the Rage, it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when the lipstick started coming into play. I think it was relatively early on. It germinated as I was writing. As other pieces started falling into place, Romy’s make-up ritual became more and more a direct response to everything happening around her.
Q: I don’t think a book has ever made me so angry with society and the rape culture. Did you deliberately set out to piss people off or was that just the pleasant result?
Thank you so much! As soon as a book is published, reader response is totally out of my hands–but I really do hope when people finish All the Rage, they’re angry about rape culture.
Q: Now that we are all really pissed off, what would you hope your readers do about that anger?
I hope they channel that anger into keeping the conversation about rape culture going, into advocating for victims and survivors, into educating themselves and others.

The Giveaway

Want to read All the Rage? Of course you do! Trish is giving away a HB copy. Just enter the Rafflecopter thingy below by Midnight on Monday, April 20th to be entered. Open to U.S. residents only please. We really want to get this book out into the world so we tried to come up with as many easy ways to enter as possible.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Meet the Authors

About Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers was born in Belleville, Ontario in 1986 and currently resides in a small town not far from there. To date, she has authored five novels. Her first novel, Cracked Up to Be, was published when she was 22 and went on to win the 2009 CYBIL award in YA fiction. Since then, she’s published four more books–Some Girls AreFall for AnythingThis is Not a Test and her newest novel, All the Rage.

About Trish Doller

I was born in Germany, grew up in Ohio, and graduated with a degree in journalism from Ohio State University. Married someone really awesome and moved around with him a bit from Maine to Michigan and back to Ohio. I’ve worked as a radio personality and as a staff writer for my hometown newspaper. I also had a couple of kids along the way who have become two of the most interesting adults I’ve ever met.

These days I live, work, and sail in Florida with a relentlessly optimistic border collie and a pirate.

Trish is the author of Where the Stars Still Shine and Something Like Normal, out now. In June she will be releasing The Devil You Know (which I’ve read and it is a seriously wicked good thriller).

To learn more about The Sexual Violence in YA Lit Project, please visit our index with all the links and book discussions.