Book Review: Rape Girl by Alina Kline
I had some serious reservations about reading a book called Rape Girl. It’s just so… off-putting, I suppose you could say, and almost seemed to imply a trivialization of the subject matter. I’m pleased that that did not turn out to be the case.
Rape Girl is a slim novel which tells the tale of 16-year-old Valerie, a girl who just wants to fit in, but who ends up being referred to as “that rape girl” after she reports a sexual assault. Valerie is relatively new in town, a Catholic living in Mormon Utah, being raised by her mother after the death of her father two years earlier. An outsider in many ways, Valerie throws a party while her mother is away for a weekend, and things quickly get out of hand. Valerie has too much to drink (it’s unclear to me whether she simply had too much alcohol or if something was added to a drink, perhaps) and passes out. The next morning, she wakes to find her clothes being removed by the boy she likes, and is unable to fight him off after saying no.
After admitting what happened to her mother and reporting the rape to the police, Valerie is ostracized at school and dumped by her best friend. She drifts through feelings of depression and worthlessness, and experiences the all-too-familiar tragedy of a rape victim being blamed for her own assault. The in-crowd at school rallies round the attacker, Adam, who remains remarkably clueless throughout, more focused on what Valerie’s accusations might do to his future rather than concerned that he may have hurt someone.
Valerie is repeatedly victimized, by the incessant blaming at school, by the ineffectual school principal who chooses to isolate Valerie as a solution to classroom tensions, and by the legal system that sees her case as unwinnable. It is only by finding new sources of support that Valerie is able to move forward and reclaim her life — not necessarily the life that she thought she’d wanted, but a life that seems promising nonetheless.
Rape Girl is very short, and I think the story ultimately suffers a bit because of the length. There are places throughout where more explanation and more background might have been helpful. Valerie’s family life is outlined, but not explored in any great depth. I had a hard time getting a good sense of the mother’s character, and since she is Valerie’s main adult support, it seemed to me that we should have gotten to know her a bit better. In the aftermath of the rape, Valerie is befriended by a girl from a large Mexican family, and perhaps if there was more time spent on character development, Sandrina and her family might have seemed less like a stereotypical token ethnic element. Valerie’s journey toward healing also seemed unrealistically quick; again, this is an area where more exploration might have benefited the overall quality of the storytelling.
Aside from these areas of weakness — a case where more might have been better than less — I found Rape Girl to be a sad but all-too-believable story, and one that could have an important impact on teen readers, both male and female.
Review copy courtesy of namelos publishing via Netgalley.