Tuesday, May 20, 2014
REVIEW: Tease by Amanda Maciel
This is the story of Sara, a teenage girl who is facing criminal charges for her part in the bullying that leads another classmate, Emma Putnam, to commit suicide. Tease is told in two parts: The months leading up to Emma's suicide in which we see Sara and her best friend Brielle harass and bully Emma relentlessly both in person and online and we also see several months of Sara's experiences as she's dealing with lawyers and her therapist leading up to the trial following Emma's death.
I found reading Tease to be very difficult at first. The first 100 pages or so really made me angry as the main character has absolutely no remorse at all for her actions, she's adamant she didn't do anything wrong ... and once I got over my rage at how self-centred Sara is, I realised that Sara's attitude about her part in things might have been one of the author's points and I began to look at the novel in a much different way. And while Tease felt really uncomfortable reading and while I didn't agree that Sara was blameless, I could sometimes see where she was coming from and how there were more sides to this story than just two mean girls picking on the new girl.
The thing that stuck out for me the most is that both Sara and Brielle lack any form of empathy. Sara sees the world at the start of this novel only able to view how things affect HER and she doesn't seem to see that the things she says and does have an impact on other people, and in this case specifically how her comments and behaviours have had an big impact on Emma's life and her well-being. I think that's pretty key to Sara's behaviour and attitude.
Another point that Sara raises throughout Tease is that she believes she's not at fault any more than everyone else who has ever said mean things about Emma or people who call each other out on the sexual identities in a negative way. I found this really interesting. Because we can see in Sara's interactions with her friends, and in particular, Brielle, that words like 'slut' and 'whore' and other derogatory terms are thrown around with abandon and Sara sees this as acceptable behaviour because it's all just joking around and not serious and everyone says these things and everyone has to put up with this sort of language and name-calling anyway. So taking this one step further, she doesn't quite get the distinction between 'friendly' banter and the extreme bullying that takes place regarding Emma.
And the fact that Sara doesn't know this shows a real lack of education from parents and teachers and the whole education system, surely. I found it really upsetting that the (fictional) high school this all takes place in supposedly has an anti-bullying policy in place but it is so ineffective that is laughable ...and also heart-breaking. Because as Sara returns to school after Emma's suicide Sara faces some of the same isolation and name-calling that Emma went through and it's all so realistic but also very sad because what does bullying someone who has bullied others actually achieve? I think that Emma and Sara are both let down by the system. And that also furthers Sara's point that her behaviours reflect a socially constructed environment in which bullying and name-calling are the norm and nobody quite gets where the boundaries or limits are?
While I never actually liked Sara as a character, I did like the way that Amanda Maciel paints her. Sara isn't a bad person: she deserves second chances and happiness just like the rest of us and I think that was also an important message. Sara did terrible things but that doesn't mean that she's a terrible person or that she needs to carrying around the 'bully' label forever.
I found Tease ultimately to be incredibly thought-provoking and interesting. I think it's a book that is challenging to read and will provoke strong reactions amongst its readers. I think that's really good and I hope it opens up different conversations about bullying and prevention and where to go from here.