Here’s something strange: last week I picked up two books at the library without really knowing what they were about. I just knew I heard “about” them and figured they would be a good way to pass a cold, rainy April weekend. What’s weird is that were pretty much the same story…just that one was way, way better than the other.
Both of these books deal with the rape of a high school student and the repercussions that follow.
First lets get the bad out of the way. I really didn’t like the Luckiest Girl Alive. But there were some glimpses of good in it.
TifAni FaNelli is a freshman in high school in 2004 who transfers to an uber wealthy prep school after being kicked out of an all girls Catholic school for being a bad influence. Desperate to make new friends and fit in, TifAni quickly morphs herself into a girl that the cafeteria table of cool kids might like. But her transformation quickly backfires, and she is sexually assaulted at a party a few weeks later.
Of course, nobody believes her. The boy she could potentially bring charges against is super wealthy and popular, and she’s a nobody from the wrong side of the tracks. She was probably asking for it, right?
Meanwhile, in present day Manhattan, Ani FaNelli is a rising editor at a popular women’s magazine and is getting married to the perfect Luke Harrison. Ani has again reinvented herself, dropping the “Tif” and hoping that people don’t recognize her name or her face, always trying to put her past behind her.
I hated both TifAni and Ani. I hated everyone around her — the other students, her parents, the school administrators, the police, her bridesmaids, Luke’s family, everyone. Except the shark. I liked the shark.
I appreciated that Ani attempted to put her past behind her, and attempt to rise and succeed as someone new, but I disliked the person she created so much that it was difficult to care.
The book was absorbing as hell, however. I read it in two sittings and was impressed by how difficult it was to put down. And I read about the recent revelation that the author had been assaulted as a girl, and I feel terrible about that. I just wish I had liked this book.
Now on to something better.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear was a much stronger version of the same story. Described as a cross between Veronica Mars and Shakespeare, Exit tells the story of rape victim Hermione.
Hermione and her best friend, Polly, are seniors. They are the co-captains of their extraordinarily successful school cheerleading squad (yeah, all of the cheerleading stuff went way over my head. I have no idea.), and are ready to leave their small town behind for college life in a few months.
And then at a party at cheerleading camp, Hermione is given a drink with a roofie in it and blacks out. She wakes up in the hospital with no recollection of the past 12 hours, and no idea how to react to the fact that something terrible happened to her, and that she doesn’t remember it.
What makes this book better is that Hermione is such a normal girl. She has self-doubts. She has problems with her parents and her friends. She argues with her boyfriend and worries about school. I really felt what she was going through and her struggles to deal with a trauma that she felt so disassociated from.
Plus, this book had lots of witty banter and even some Star Wars jokes.
After Hermione’s nerves cause her to throw up in the bathroom, her dad runs upstairs to check on her and we get this scene, with her dad talking to her and Polly through the bathroom door:
“Will you be okay for dinner?” he asks.
“Oh yeah,” Polly says. “I’m fine now. We’re all fine. How are you?”
I’m a sucker for a good Han Solo reference.
I’ll keep my eye out for more from Johnston, I really liked her style.
And for anyone curious about the title of the book (taken from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale), here’s the yummy David Tennant attempting to explain it: