Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Tease by Amanda Maciel

Title: Tease
Author: Amanda Maciel
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: April 29th 2014
Pages: 328
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
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Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault.
At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who's ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media.
During the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her role in an undeniable tragedy. And she'll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I absolutely love the premise of Tease. I've read plenty of stories about bullying, but I've never read anything that explores the bully's character in such depth. The whole idea of facing criminal charges for the bullying that contributed to a classmate's suicide is intriguing and thought-provoking, and I loved getting to see how this affects everyone involved. It was fascinating to read a story like this from the bully's point of view, and I loved (almost) everything about it!

I'll admit that large parts of this novel had me in a feminist rage - the slut-shaming in this book is out of control. The reason that Brielle and Sara (and in turn, all the other girls at their school) tease Emma is because she's what they consider a slut, i.e. she's (allegedly) slept (or at least gone out) with a number of guys. Literally all of the harassment is based on this tiny thing that is absolutely none of anyone's business. Emma hangs out with (and maybe hooks up with) a lot of guys and doesn't have any girl friends (because they shun her for being a "slut"), so obviously she's a horrible person. Sara has a deep-seated hatred for Emma because she's "going after" her boyfriend, and it's the classic case of blaming the "Other Woman" rather than holding the guy accountable for his actions. I could go on about this, but I'll just leave it at telling you that this was really frustrating to read about. But despite all of this anger, it totally works: it's not like the novel condones Sara's behavior, and it's definitely portrayed as problematic. We get to see the very real, tragic effects of bullying and slut-shaming, and it makes for a powerful, important story.

The novel alternates between the past, when Sara and Brielle are making Emma's life miserable, and the present, when Sara is preparing for her trial and dealing with the aftermath of her actions. The two parts of the story are equally compelling: it's fascinating, in a disturbing kind of way, to see how teasing Emma escalates into so much more, and I really liked trying to understand Sara's reasoning. The aftermath is equally intriguing because you get to see how Sara's understanding of what happened evolves over time, and the juxtaposition of these two storylines really showcases Sara's growth over the course of the novel.

Sara is a character you go into the novel wanting to hate, and I definitely disagreed with her on pretty much everything. But Amanda Maciel also makes it really easy to understand where she is coming from. Her desire to fit in and to have Brielle like her is presented in a way that absolutely made me feel for her, especially knowing that, if it meant being one of the cool kids, it would have been pretty easy to get younger-me to go along with lots of things, too. I'd like to think I wouldn't have let it get this far, but really, it's not like Sara wanted Emma to kill herself, either. And while it's obviously bs that Sara blames Emma for everything and lets Dylan off scot-free, I could still understand that she is hurt and struggling. Of course the novel is biased, and Sara is probably not the most reliable narrator, and that definitely affects your view of these characters. We only see Emma through Sara's eyes, and only in this context, while we sympathize with Sara when we see her interacting with her brothers and struggling with her relationship with her father. I really don't know how I feel about any of these characters, and I think that means Amanda Maciel succeeded in writing a very thought-provoking novel.

Being the nitpicking, anti-slut-shaming feminist that I am, I do have a couple of things to criticize about Tease. Like I said, Sara grows a lot over the course of the novel, and the ultimate message is definitely a good one. But I still had some issues with it. For example, when Sara apologizes at the end, most of her regrets are focused on  making assumptions about Emma without knowing whether or not they're true. Even if she did sleep with all those guys, that does not make her a bad person or worthy of this kind of (or any kind of) harassment. I understand the impulse to hate the girl that your boyfriend cheated on you with, but it bothers me so, so much when people blame the "Other Woman" rather than the cheating boyfriend. It is not other girls' responsibility to not flirt with your boyfriend; it is your boyfriend's responsibility to not act on this attraction if he is in a monogamous relationship. I get that flirting with a guy who has a girlfriend is not the most morally sound thing to do, but it is most definitely worse for the guy to respond to this attention; the one who is in a relationship is at fault, not the "Other Woman." Dylan is the one who made a commitment to Sara, not Emma, yet Emma gets all of the blame.

Of course, this would be fine if it were only the case in the beginning, since the novel doesn't condone Sara's behavior in any way. I just wish this had been addressed more towards the end. At the very end, Sara talks about how Brielle wasn't a good friend because she never liked Dylan, but... wasn't she right? I mean, Sara, he used you and cheated on you and generally treated you like crap. (Even if he was better to Emma than Sara and Brielle were.) I'm sure that, if I asked Amanda Maciel about it, she would agree and not condone Dylan's behavior, I just wish it had been emphasized more towards the end that the cheating was his fault, not Emma's. (Although of course I understand that this is told form Sara's very subjective point-of-view, and even though she grows over the course of the novel, she's not perfect.) I also wish Sara's and Dylan's sexual relationship, as well as Brielle's history, had been addressed in more detail (but I can't really talk about that without spoiling things).

Sorry for writing a review that is probably twice as long as the ones I usually write. But Tease is such a thought-provoking read that I just had more to say than I usually do. It's not perfect, but I do think it sends a very important message, and it's definitely an original contribution to discussions of bullying and slut-shaming. With engaging writing and controversial but sympathetic characters, Tease is a thought-provoking, powerful story. I definitely recommend picking it up.


  1. Thanks for a really thought-provoking review of what sounds like a really thought-provoking story. I have recommended Tease as a book that deals with the ramifications of bullying in a nuanced way, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Your review makes me want to move it to the top of my TBR list!


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