Title: Home Before Dark by Beverly Hastings
Summary: HURRY HOME…
“This isn’t the way to my house,” she said, with uncertainty in her voice.
“Yes, it is,” he reassured her. Already his heart was thumping a little faster in anticipation.
“It’s getting late,” she told him. “I’m supposed to be home before dark.”
She felt his heavy forearm across his throat. She screamed, but he just laughed.
At first, a year in Ohio with her aunt and uncle seems like a jail sentence to teenager Sara Langdon – after all, she’s from sunny L.A. The kids accept her with no problems, though, and she soon starts dating the captain of the football team. Then terror strikes, as a killer begins stalking high-school girls.
Tagline: No one is safe when the sun goes down…
Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.
I’ve never read it before. I didn’t know much about it, though when I chose it, Dove warned me that it was about rape, at the same time she warned me about the good times I’d have with Help Wanted.
This recap is a little different. For one thing, there will be no counters. I tried to add them in after I wrote the first draft, but they felt frivolous and distracting from the main point, which is: this book is at times a pointed commentary on rape culture, and the recap expands on that theme. A lot. Nearly 16,000 words worth of a lot. This is a recap of Home Before Dark. It points out all the things we love and hate about Point Horrors and its ilk, as always. But Home Before Dark actually handles the rape aspect fairly well, and certainly better than Help Wanted did. This is more than a recap.
The timing on this is important as well. Rape is in the news in the USA because Brock Turner, a convicted rapist, was given six months in the Stanford rape case. SIX FUCKING MONTHS. Judge Aaron Persky gave him a lenient sentence because, and I fucking quote, “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.”
Let that sink in. A prison sentence, as punishment for a crime he has fucking been convicted for months ago, would have a severe impact on him. The criminal. Who cares about the impact on the survivor, right?
This is rape culture. We live in rape culture. It is constantly stewing all around us. Slut shaming. Victim blaming. It mixes with racism and white supremacy. Letting white rapists off because punishment will hurt them, and they were just drunk, and boys will be boys. Punishing black rapists because they are thugs and dangerous and We Must Save the White Women From Dangerous Black Men. Asking girls and women what they did to not be raped, how much they fought, but didn’t you really like it a little. She was asking for it. Look at what she was wearing. She was drunk, it’s her fault versus he was drunk, it’s not his fault.
The most shocking part of all of this actually isn’t that he got six months, and will likely be out in three. It is that he was charged and found guilty and sentenced at all. It is that the media covered it at all. Most rapes go unreported, or if they are reported, they aren’t investigated, or if they are investigated, no one is ever charged, or if they are charged, they are not convicted. Most rapes do not receive media coverage, particularly if it involves women of color, queer women, queer women of color, men as the victims — rape is endemic to our society.
So yeah. We often get serious around here, but this even more serious than usual, even more of a social commentary than usual, even more a shout of rage than usual. I am Wing, and I am a rape survivor, and I am angry.
[Dove: I can’t remember who said it, but I’ve seen it going around the internet: rape and crimes of that ilk are the only ones where the victim gets questioned so thoroughly. The example they gave is that when someone says, “I’ve been robbed, someone’s nicked my TV,” nobody replies with, “Oh. Are you sure you didn’t just give the TV away?”
Additionally, I find it particularly distasteful that his father referred to the rape of an unconscious non-consenting woman as “20 minutes of action”, which, no matter what his intention was regarding word choice, reads to me as “Look, he had a crap shag, and he’s off his food, pity him.” Actually, I find it utterly disgraceful that his father was trying to defend his actions in any way, shape or form. The wording just made it worse.
Obviously, given the subject matter, there probably won’t be much flippant goofing off in this recap. So my comments may be sparse.]
[Wing: Dove makes a great point. And not only has his father spoken out in his defense, so have his friends. I say this later in the recap, and I say it extensively, but to sum it up here: I can almost guarantee that (a) you know someone who is a rape survivor, and (b) you know someone who is a fucking rapist, no matter how nice or kind or good you think that person is.]
Anyway, we open in the best way possible, with a prologue focused on the unnamed Muffin Man and Mary Jo, who is in the car with him. He’s giving her a ride home, and she’s grateful and enjoying the ride. Oh, Mary Jo, I’m very sorry for what’s about to happen to you.
When Mary Jo points out they’re not on the way to her house, Muffin Man tells her that it’s the long way around because he couldn’t resist taking a little detour because of the gorgeous day and the pretty girl. This is smarmy and gross, even before we as the readers are privy to Muffin Man’s private thoughts, which is that not many guys would call Mary Jo pretty and how much he’s looking forward to what’s coming next.
The narration bumps back and forth between their thoughts (though it stays in third person). That’s a writing trick that is difficult to do well in the best of scenarios from the greatest of writers, which is not this.
Despite Mary Jo’s misgivings, when Muffin Man stops the car and suggests they go for a walk, she goes with him. I do not blame her for this. What else was she supposed to do? Refuse? Things would have just escalated that much faster.
There is a really true line: The girl’s fear was mounting but she didn’t want to cause a fuss…. Girls are so often socialized to put up with all sorts of discomfort without complaining, even when they know something’s wrong, even when they’re scared, because girls should be kind and pretty and quiet. That is such bullshit, and such a part of the patriarchy and rape culture.
[Dove: This. Just. This.]
Muffin Man kisses her and won’t stop even when she tells him too. She tries to get away, but he is too strong; he tells her to relax, it’s going to be fine, she’s going to like it, and I am deeply disgusted and disturbed. I’m supposed to feel that way, at least; the narration isn’t holding up what he’s doing as something that is acceptable.
Mary Jo says she’ll tell her dad, but Muffin Man is so certain of his own power and fear, so well aware of what he can do to women, what he is about to do, that he simply tells her she won’t, and then presses his forearm across her throat.
We are spared a graphic description of what comes next, but this scene is already sinister and sickening and terrifying. Mary Jo is dead. Muffin Man thinks about what a waste it was, that she had to end up like that, but she asked for it.
So far, this is a surprisingly well-handled portrayal of rape and murder.
Chapter One introduces us to Sara Langdon, who is going from California to stay with Aunt Liz and Uncle Ted in Ohio for a year while her Dad is off doing … something. Probably in Europe. Sara wanted to stay with her best friend, Patti, but her father wanted her to make new friends and see new sights. In Ohio.
(Note: Wing hates Ohio.)
Liz and Ted are waiting for Sara at the gate when she arrives, and this book is instantly aged.
We learn that Sara is short (5’6”) and Liz even shorter (5’3”), but not much else by way of description. Liz chatters all the way home, and we learn what Sara’s dad is actually doing, which is taking a sabbatical from UCLA to Brazil to do research on Amazonian birds, and actually he sounds kind of amazing.
Liz and Ted’s house looks like something out of a magazine, and at first Sara is surprised, because she doesn’t remember it being so glamorous (she hasn’t been to visit in a very long time, not since before her mother died), and then she realizes that Liz has gone into the decorating business since then. Liz is quite the talker, and Ted is quiet. They are an interesting pair.
Ted offers to take them to Oscar’s for dinner, which Sara believes is a fancy restaurant. I’m not sure what about it makes her think that, but okay. She doesn’t really want to go because she just spent an entire day sitting in an airplane being fed nonstop. So … did you fly first class, Sara? Because I’m not even sure domestic first class feeds you that much. Certainly not these days. (I also have my doubts that she had a direct flight from LA to wherever she landed in Ohio.)
Still, Sara ends up having fun. Oscar’s is outside of town, down a narrow unmarked road, and Sara is leery, but it turns out to be full of rustic charm and, as Sara describes it, the food and service was as good as anything she’d had in LA.
Apparently business is good for Ted and Liz; they drive a dark blue Lincoln Town Car with buttery leather interior. How fancy. This leads into Ted asking if she thinks they’re all just a bunch of small-town hicks; even though he’s trying to joke about things, he’s clearly really upset. It turns out people at work, in the New York office (which, though New York the state is vast, I am going to assume means NYC, because doesn’t it always in fiction?), give him grief about living in Ohio. This is something I’ve experienced myself; I obviously didn’t live in Ohio (WING HATE OHIO), but I lived in the Midwest, and people often expected me to be very small town and unintelligent. (I used to use this against them, because I am dangerously smart and very good at what I do. Underestimate me again, motherfuckers.) That is all beside the point. The point is that I am delightfully surprised by how real this book feels so far. I did not expect that! Sara dozes off before they finish the conversation, but I feel for both Ted and Liz.
Sara and Liz spend the next few days designing Sara’s room for the year. I mean, I know Liz is a designer, but they are putting an awful lot of work into a space Sara will only use for twelve months. (Then again, I am likely to never decorate, left to my own devices; my sister comes and decorates for me when I move.) And then Sara addresses this very thing! My god, I don’t know what to do with this book! Liz explains that it’s something she loves to do, and that she wants Sara to feel at home. Then she talks about how important it is to her, even though Ted sort of thinks of it as a cute little hobby. And not in an abusive, dangerous way, just in that dismissive way even men with the best of intentions can be toward women. Again, some real truth in this book.
What is even happening right now? Am I really recapping a book that is making sense?!
School starts in chapter two, and we get a description of Sara: she has her dad’s coloring, dark brown, almost black hair; green eyes; and fair skin, but her hair is straight when his is curly. He and Liz are beautiful and “exotic” (now there’s the Point Horror I know and hate — exotic is a terrible description, very othering; example: I’m not a parrot. So don’t call me exotic.), while Sara doesn’t feel beautiful at all. She’s super stressed about school, and changes her outfits a billion times, making herself too late to walk to school, even though she’d done it the day before just to make sure she knew where to go. That’s something I do, too, and I like that in her. Instead, Ted gives her a ride to school, and we never do hear about the outfit that made her so late.
Sara is a junior (year eleven, somewhere between 16 and 18 years old, probably), and that would be a really rough time to enter a new school, especially one that is significantly smaller than her school back in LA. From an administrative perspective, it’s an easy transfer for her; Liz has already taken care of all her enrollment and registering for classes, and her homeroom teacher is kind.
Julie befriends her right away and offers to show her to her first class, English with Mr Wright, which is Julie’s first class too. (Brief description of Julie, only that she’s a pretty blond.) In the hallway, they’re joined by Rick, who is a big, athletic-looking guy. He asks if Julie is going to be the new junior senator, making it sound like a big deal, but Julie is nonchalant. Rick is super sarcastic about Julie coming from LA and is rude as he blatantly checks her out; she is sharp and defiant back, and I like her a lot, and the way the narrative points out he has no right to leer at her. Rick does not take well to this, and snaps off a creepy line about her not seeing any parties, period, before he takes off.
Julie hasn’t abandoned her to Rick, she was just talking to someone else, a guy, Mike, who has an open, friendly face, warm brown eyes, and a slightly crooked nose. She and Julie race off to class, because Mr Wright is a stickler for rules, and it would be a terrible thing to be late for his class. He’s also, Sara learns, very organized and kind of a hard ass; he will give an F to papers with any spelling errors. I kind of like him. He assigns them an in-class writing assignment, and while she’s getting started, asks Sara if she did the summer reading. Which, of course, she did not, and now has to come talk to him after school.
Sara is disappointed when Julie leaves with a group of girls, but knows she is feeling unreasonably let down. I don’t know if it’s that unreasonable; Julie was the closest thing you have to a friend right now. Of course you’re a little shaken. Unfortunately, the day just keeps getting worse; Rick is in her American history class, and he and his friends pick at her about her LA life. Math and Spanish classes go ok, but by the time they’re done, she is ready for a break.
Julie waves her over to sit with her friends at lunch, but when Julie introduces her as Sara from LA, people start treating her weird. They are polite enough, but not welcoming. Sara is stuck just listening to their conversations. Situations like these are why I try to be welcoming to new people; it can take a lot of guts to join a group that already exists, and then it is extra terrible to still feel unwelcome after. It is hard for me to strike up a conversation with people; I don’t particularly like to talk, and I don’t like people, but I think it is the right thing to do. Teen!Wing tried to do it back then, too; teen!Wing also hated people a lot less than adult!Wing does.
Anyway, student council elections are coming up, and the girls are planning Julie’s campaign to run for junior senator. Marsha (skinny, serious-faced) invites them all over to her house after school to work on posters, but Sara can’t go because she has to see Mr Wright. Surely that won’t take more than a couple of minutes. They could wait.
The rest of the day goes chemistry, gym, and finally her elective; she chose “Hands-On Economics – The Beginner’s Guide to Financial Management and Investing.” And my suspension of disbelief is failing me, because that sounds incredibly useful and therefore nothing at all like an elective that would have been offered back then. Julie and a bunch of other people from their homeroom are in the class, which is taught by Ms Brooks (young, no-nonsense), who assures them that women are at least as equal to men in their ability to grasp the basics and develop insightful investment strategies. GOOD LORD, BOOK, ARE YOU WOOING ME? BECAUSE IT FEELS LIKE YOU ARE WOOING ME — AND SUCCEEDING.
Though, then there’s this:
Every family has a ‘designated investor,’ and in most of your families I suspect that that’s the man of the house. Even in single-parent homes, it’s unusual to hear moms talk to daughters about income investments versus growth investments or discuss the difference between stocks and bonds.
There are some seriously unaddressed class issues here (which, of course, include race issues), and it is unfortunate that a book which is otherwise doing so well has tripped on that so hard. Not everyone has the ability to invest, has the money for investing, has the understanding of where to start, was raised in a family where investing was a concept they would ever reach, much less guaranteed reach and have a designated person for it, etc. Ms Brooks also assumes that they have income that they can spend for fun; I worked in high school, but I worked because I had to pay for things we couldn’t otherwise afford. I wouldn’t have been able to put that into investing.
It takes Sara longer than expected to talk to Mr Wright, because a ton of people are transferring out of his class, and each and every one of them want to explain why. Mr Wright is bored, Sara is bored, and I am bored. He’s in a bad mood by the time he gets to Sara, and flat out tells her he thinks she’s going to have a hard time keeping up. Sara refuses to let him get away with that, and I am more than a little besotted by her right now. (The summer reading was PD James’ An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, she needs her own copy to mark up, and she needs to be ready to start discussing it the next day, style and structure.) (Also, it’s a real book, a detective novel from the 70s that was adapted into a movie and a tv series, and features Detective Cordelia Gray. There’s a mystery about a death that is claimed to be a suicide but seems to be something else, and groups of friends with dark secrets, and I am intrigued as to how this is going to play into the story here, too.)
Sara walks to the bookstore to buy the book and then on to the house; it’s turned into a sticky, muggy, hot afternoon, and she is very grumpy. I don’t blame her. This would be at the end of summer, and summer in Ohio can be miserable. As she’s walking, she gets a prickly feeling that someone is watching her, but can’t see anyone around. Then (that nice-looking) Mike pulls up in a dusty gray car and asks if she wants a ride. It’s only after she gets into the car that she thinks about all the warnings she’s had her whole life about getting into the car with strangers — but that was LA, and this is Overton, Ohio, nothing bad could ever happen there.
That line has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and I fucking love it.
Anyway, they talk a little about the weather (to Sara’s mortification), and we learn that Mike is a senior and running for senior senator; he hopes both he and Julie win, because she’ll be good in student government. Sara at first had hopes that maybe he was interested, but now that she knows he’s a senior, she thinks he must just be being nice to the new girl. Because there’s such a huge age difference between juniors and seniors, my god, woman, keep it in your pants. *headdesk*
And then we get some fat hate, because of course the book does well in so many other aspects, so it has to fall down on this one. Of course. Sara’s constantly starving, and worries that she’s going to be as big as a house by Halloween from all the eating. Because all fat people do is sit around and eat, amirite? And being fat is the worst thing in the world, amirite? FUCK OFF SARA AND HERE I THOUGHT WE COULD BE FRIENDS.
Okay, moving on. Sara throws herself into Julie’s campaign because she thinks it is a good way to meet people, and probably she is correct. She comes up with a great idea, too; they will design campaign bookmarks with slogans like “Julie Baker marks the spot” or “Know where you’re at with Julie Baker” then print them five to a sheet of paper. She’ll ask her uncle to make copies on colored construction paper at his office. Until that part, I was with you, but I’m not sure how well colored construction paper is going to run through an office copier.
Just when things look like they’re going well, Sara turns up at lunch to find everyone very solemn. Marlene Marrs was raped the night before. She graduated last year, and was working at the Pit Stop; when she got off work, a guy in a ski mask attacked her. Now, in our last recap, I went off on this sort of representation of rape versus how it generally happens, and it is still applicable. I’m not going to repeat it just yet, I’m saving a rage explosion for later, just in case, but in short: stranger rape is fairly rare, and generally it is that nice person who lives next door, the cute guy in class, the girl you work with who seems so sweet.
Anyway, Sara again wonders how something so awful could happen in this “seemingly peaceful little town” which is driving the point home kind of hard, but I can’t hate it because it is a point that needs to be made. Apparently two rapes happened the year before, and both times the guy wore knitted ski masks. Everyone assumed he had left town after, but now this has happened to Marlene.
And then Sara learns that last spring Mary Jo Rice disappeared, and still no one knows what happened to her, though some people think she just ran away because she was kind of a loner. (The reader, of course, knows that she did not run away, because of that terrible prologue.)
(More people at the table whose names are dropped on us: LuAnn Philips, Marsha.)
LuAnn says that her dad the cop says they have evidence against ski-mask guy and they are going to catch him, but didn’t you just tell us that everyone thought he left town? If they have evidence, why haven’t they done anything? Oh, right, because rapists don’t get arrested, and when they do, they don’t get convicted, and when they do, they get shorter sentences because to give them a long sentence might ruin their life. Well, so long as they’re straight white guys, at least.
I want to burn the world, but not because of the book. Because this is reality, this is life, this is the rape culture in which we live.
Okay. Deep breath. Back to the book. The high school is quiet, everyone is talking about what happened, and I feel very strongly for Marlene. After school, Sara, Julie, and LuAnn rehang some posters, and then watch football tryouts. It is pretty late in the year for football tryouts! They would have been done probably the spring of the last school year, but at least over the summer. By this time of year, they would have been practicing for weeks during the summer and every day after school; they’re probably ready for their first game. High school football is SRS BZNS.
Sara is surprised that Mike is trying out for the team, and LuAnn is shocked that she is surprised. Last year, he made more touchdowns than anyone else and practically broke the league record. During a break, he comes over to say hello and asks if they’re going to hang around for awhile. Julie and LuAnna have things to do, but Sara is free. She’s also totally tongue-tied. He offers her a ride home if she’s still around after he’s done, and heads back to tryouts.
Sara doesn’t get home until nearly six, and Liz is freaking out. Sara tries to tell herself that Liz doesn’t have kids of her own and so maybe she’s nervous and overprotective, but it is alittle strange. Then Ted gets home and is very angry that Mike is around and tells Sara not to have anything else to do with him because he’s a jock who drives a beat-up car. Ted, I don’t really think you get to tell her who she can or can’t hang out with, and also, you are starting to look like a controlling, abusive bastard. Back off. (This is especially driven home when before Sara can protest, Liz gives her a warning hug and distracts Ted.)
While Liz tells Sara about how worried she was because the rape happened, Sara thinks about how terrible it has to be for Marlene to know that the whole town is talking about what happened to her, and even though news travels fast in LA, it travels like lightning here. This such a good, apt point.
AND THEN TED OVERHEARS WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT AND SAYS SHE PROBABLY ASKED FOR IT.
SHE. PROBABLY. ASKED. FOR. IT.
Ted, I am going to bring you to life. Then I am going to set you on fire. Then I am going to bring you back to life from the ashes. Then I am going to set you on fire again.
This is really heavy handed, and I don’t care, because it is also true. IT IS SO GODDAMN TRUE. People you trust, people you care about, people you expect to know better, they will say shit like this when rape comes up. Boys will be boys, he was just having fun, he didn’t know what he was doing. It is so fucking appropriate to read this now, when the Stanford rape case is making the rounds, and the rapist’s family and friends are defending him. When the judge lets him off with a super light sentence because it might otherwise ruin his life. When people asks what was she wearing, what was she drinking why was she there why did she talk to him why did she smile at him why did she breathe.
What kind of girl works at a drive-in, Ted asks, and I want to set him aflame, and through him everyone who has ever questioned was her skirt too short her dress too tight her make-up to thick her smile too wide her drink too strong her eyes too bright.
Okay, I am back. My rage has been (momentarily) banked. Sara is angry, too, and goes off to do her homework rather than hang out with them. Julie calls later that night to see if Mike asked her out, and Sara still doesn’t think that he likes her, she thinks he’s just being nice. They joke around a lot, and talk about Julie’s campaign, and it’s kind of nice. Sara suggests she talk to the other students in their homeroom, who don’t seem to have much to do with anyone’s campaign but who might have great ideas. Julie is reluctant, because they are very serious and she doesn’t think they’ll care; they discuss how Sara recognizes this potential because she doesn’t have the same preconceived ideas about people that the rest of them do because she’s knew. This is and is not true; I mean, she had some ideas about what it would be like to live in small town Ohio versus LA. But at the same time, she has been more open to how people relate to each other.
That night, Sara has a nightmare about running around a twisted, broken carnival with screams and shouts and merry-go-round horses (I believe the word she actually wants is carousel) [Dove: You’re reading the English edition, so they’ve probably used our words. We call them Merry-Go-Rounds. Also, your Tilt-a-Whirls? We call them Waltzers.] [Wing: Well, that’s weird, because later it is definitely called a carousel. A merry-go-round is something different here (generally something found in a school playground, no animals involved), and I love the differences in our shared language. But I hate inconsistencies. I am torn, obviously.] that neigh and stomp their feet, skeletons that jump, bats that fly into her hair. She’s being chased by a man in a ski mask who lopes tirelessly along behind her, and that is such a werewolf description, but I can’t even enjoy it because this is a terrible dream.
The transition from the dream to the next day is rushed and awkward, because there is no chapter break. I can’t believe I’m advocating a chapter break, but I am. Not a cliffhanger, just a regular one. Anyway, Mike calls and asks Sara to go to the movies with him, and she decides to go without telling Liz and Ted exactly what she’s doing. She’s been warned not to go anywhere alone until the rapist is caught, and again, this is just highlighting the fact that as a society, our fears of rapists, driven by our media (including books like this) are focused on stranger in a mask, dangerous scary man, and that is not actually how it works most of the time. The call is coming from inside the house. The rapist is someone you know and probably trust.
(There’s a brief aside about how jealous Sara is of her friends who drive, because her birthday is so late in the year, and everyone she knew was already sixteen and driving, but she has permission from her dad to get her license, so is she or is she not sixteen? If she’s only fifteen, she is really fucking young for a junior, and couldn’t get her license anyway. This little paragraph is so confusing and so pointless.)
Sara and Julie go to the mall and run into Melodie Burton and Ginger Swift, who are people Julie sometimes hangs out with, but she blows them off this time. When Sara asks, Julie says she wants a peaceful lunch, not a food fight, and then tells Sara that Melodie hates her because Sara stole Melodie’s boyfriend. Which is a stretch, and Julie admits that too; apparently Mike and Melodie dated last year, then Melodie dumped him for a college boy over the summer, but now that college boy has gone back to school, Melodie wants Mike back. I have just headdesked so hard.
After she gets home from the mall, Sara does tell Liz about her date. Liz doesn’t know why Ted seems to dislike him so much, but says everything will be fine. This is looking more and more like an abusive relationship. [Dove: Ted hit my buttons pretty hard. The anger at Sara socialising. The control he needed to exert. And the way that her aunt calms him down by being a soft, gentle female.] Ted knows about the date, but Sara hustles out of the house before Ted can spend much time cross-examining Mike, who is pretty chill about it. He talks about his own issues with his dad, who hurt his knee just as he was starting a pro football career and so is living vicariously through Mike and wants him to go pro. Mike isn’t so sure. They have a nice night at the movies and then getting pizza after, where they run into a bunch of people they know, and then they share a short, sweet kiss before Mike takes her home because he doesn’t want to get on Ted’s bad side any more than he already is. Now on the one hand, that’s kind of sweet. On the other hand, it also buys into that idea that the man in a girl’s life controls her and needs to be impressed before anything can happen, as if the girl isn’t allowed her own decisions. (See also, asking the father for the woman’s hand before proposing to her, which can be super problematic.)
The next night, Sara and Liz are doing dishes after dinner when Sara asks why Ted never helps at all. Liz explains he has some pretty old-fashioned ideas about men’s work and women’s work, and that because he is at work all day earning money for them, he’s entitled to enjoy himself when he’s at home. Through Sara as our narrator, this is presented as a terrible idea, and it is, but at the same time, I have some concerns with Ted as the Guy We’re Supposed to Dislike Because of His Beliefs, making him a villain for them in a way that hides how ingrained these ideas are in society, how even really good people can hold some of these beliefs very deep and not even know how terrible they are.
Ugh, Ted. Frustrating and sexist and terrible.
So, funny story, after Mr Wright was so obnoxious early on, Sara describes him as turning out to be a pussycat. He’s super involved in the class, cuts people more slack than they expected, and really makes everything far more fun than it appeared he would at first. I like it. Their economics class is much harder, though. Julie, in particular, is super bored with the budgeting work. I find it interesting and relaxing, but it’s all about organizing things into categories, which is kind of my sweet spot. I don’t really blame Julie for being bored.
Everything goes really well for Sara over the next couple weeks, school, the campaign, dating Mike — everything except for Rick (whose last name is Black). He keeps baiting her with digs about LA airheads and “movie-star groupies” and how she thinks she’s better than everyone else. She tries to ignore him, but it’s difficult.
There’s a really nice moment when he’s picking at her, asking if she’s really from LA because all the girls there are supposed to be blond and beautiful. Sara slinks away, but Diane Wallace leaps to her defense, and tells Rick to grow up, asks whether he’s that desperate for attention from a girl he has to be a jerk, and tells Sara that little boys are boring. I fucking love you, Diane Wallace.
All the pre-election excitement, as well as the normal demands of homework and social life, kept kids from dwelling on Marlene Marrs’s rape. Of course the parents’ rules for girls not going out by themselves were still pretty much in effect.
This is what happens in real life, too, but here’s the thing: where are the parents’ rules for not raping people? Why is the onus on the potential victims? That is not how it should work, and sets dangerous precedent. Don’t teach girls* not to be raped, teach boys* not to rape.
(* This is the saying that gets thrown around a lot, but it is limited. It really should be don’t teach people how to avoid being rape, teach people not to do the rape in the first goddamn place. Teach people what consent means.)
(Oh, Sara, no, no, why would you talk about the “crazy rapist” why would you do that? You were doing so well, except that one little blip with the fat hate, and now this.)
As the election season winds down for them, talk in homeroom turns to who should represent them. Sara nominates Dick Stone, who is captain of the school’s debating team and very good at winning debates; Julie nominates Sara. Sara is embarrassed by this, and not sure it’s fair for her to do it when she’ll only be there one year. Sara’s and Dick’s nominations are both seconded and accepted, and then they have to give speeches, though neither are prepared. Dick’s is short and fine, relying on the fact that he’s known by everyone already; Sara talks about how being new allows her to look at Overton High with fresh eyes and means that she asks about the issues and doesn’t assume she already knows how they feel, which are good points.
The rest of the afternoon passes in a blur for Sara, until she’s at the all-school assembly. That’s where they will vote for their senators but also for their homeroom representatives; Julie (and the others running for senator, so Mike, too) will have to give a speech, but not the potential homeroom reps. We don’t actually see Mike’s speech, but Sara thinks it is the best; it wasn’t the most polished, but “his caring and sincerity shone through.” We don’t see Julie’s speech, either, but it brings up the issues that came up during their homeroom conversations, which happened at Sara’s suggestion.
They all return to their homerooms to vote, and then the winners won’t be announced until the next morning, so Julie and Sara go to the mall to kill time, though Sara is worried about her homework and making sure Ted’s dinner is ready. I just rolled my eyes so hard. Julie reminds Sara the teachers all gave easy assignments because of the voting stuff, knowing their students won’t be focused, and then says they can go to the house and make a salad, pull something out of the freezer, and get things ready for him to heat up himself, which, he’s a fucking adult, c’mon, he can feed himself. Sara calls him from the house, and it turns out that he’s going out anyway, they don’t have to handle the food. He’s delighted that she’s going out with her “pretty blond girlfriend” and I am super skeeved out.
The next morning, Sara is eager to get to school, and Ted is weird, questioning her coming home so late the night before and being pushy about wanting to give her a ride. She hates that he seems to be keeping tabs on her, but decides it isn’t worth causing a scene. Again, this reads as super realistic; women in the USA (and elsewhere, but this is the perspective from which I speak) are often socialized NOT to cause a scene, to, in fact, do whatever it takes to avoid causing a scene, and this is part of how the patriarchy maintains such a tight control.
Sara wants to go to school early so she can see the results without a bunch of other people around, because after she’s had some time to think about it, she really wants to win, and she knows she hasn’t, because she’s so new. She doesn’t want people to see how she reacts to it, because she knows how deeply disappointed she’ll be. Sara, most of the time, I really like you.
Unfortunately, a ton of other people got there early, too, so her plan is foiled. Instead she keeps her head down, pretends to be looking for some papers in her books, and tries to slip through unnoticed, so she won’t see her friends’ disappointment in her.
Right up until Julie barrels into her shouting about how they won. Sara still isn’t sure if that means her, too (her reasoning is a little flawed, but she’s showing pretty clear anxiety here, so I’m not going to look for logic, necessarily, and it makes sense that she would feel that way), but then she sees her name; she beat Dick (… diiiirty) 17 to 14. I can’t believe they post those numbers for the homeroom elections. That seems like it could lead to people stressing over who did or did not vote for them in a much more concrete way than a simple Sara won, Dick lost statement, but maybe that’s just me. (Dick is super gracious about his loss, too, which is cool.)
The joy and exuberance of the day is short-lived, however. At lunch, Julie sits with Melodie and her best friend Ginger, who won the other junior senate seat, and I assume that is why Julie is talking to them. (Ginger, remember, hates Sara because she “stole” Mike, as if he is a piece of property. Fuck that.) Sara is grateful to sit with Marsha and LuAnn instead, but they are really worried. Apparently Diane was supposed to meet them at the mall last night, but never showed up, and now they’re worried. (Diane, remember, is the one who stood up for Sara when Rick picked on her. If this means Diane is now raped, battered, and/or dead, I am going to set so many things on fire.) Not only did Diane not show up at the mall, she hasn’t been in class, and when LuAnn called Mrs Wallace between classes, she learned Diane’s mom is worried sick and has already called the police. LuAnn says that her dad told her they can’t do anything for awhile because some kids just run away, they might turn back up, etc. Now, it’s true that there can be a 24-hour wait on a missing person before the cops do anything, but generally that is for an adult who has the autonomy to do leave, etc. Minors, even teenagers, don’t have the same rights and privileges. Plus, there are already active cases about people being hurt, people disappearing — I mean, of all the times to maybe act a little faster, THIS WOULD BE ONE.
LuAnn doesn’t believe Diane would have run away; her mom is divorced (…then why is she still called Mrs Wallace?) [Dove: As mentioned before, a lot of my friends’ divorced mums retained their surnames so they would have the same name as their kids. Also, to make things easier for the dimwits who couldn’t figure out why mother and daughter would have different surnames — in my experience, everything has to cater to the dimmest person (work bitterness).] [Wing: Poor, dear Dove. They don’t deserve you.], and it’s just the two of them, so Diane wouldn’t leave her mom alone. LuAnn flat out says that she thinks Diane disappeared the same way Mary Jo did, the ski-mask rapist grabbed her and when she recognized him, he killed her.
Sara doesn’t want to believe what LuAnn is saying. This is frustrating, but it is also very realistic. She does ask what LuAnn’s dad thinks about her theory. He’s not been talking about the rapist chase very much, though last we heard, they had a good lead, so I’m not sure why there hasn’t been more done with that that people heard about publicly. LuAnn goes on to say that she’s being careful not to go anywhere with anyone she doesn’t know real well, and is thinking twice about going out alone with any guy from school.
This horrifies Sara: From school? You can’t believe that anyone we know could be involved in this!
Oh, Sara. Oh, world. This is infuriating, and heartbreaking, and it is those things because it is so true. No one ever wants to believe that someone they know could have raped someone, but here’s the thing: every. single. rapist. is someone’s brother. sister. son. cousin. best friend. secret crush. cute girl you flirt with at the gas station. that guy whose car is expensive and gorgeous and he always smiles when he catches you checking it out.
Considering the estimates on how many people have been raped (a recent number I saw is that every two minutes, an American is raped; obviously, this doesn’t touch on rape in other countries, and the standard 1 out of 6 American women also doesn’t address men and gender nonbinary, but we’ll use these numbers for this point anyway), I can almost guarantee that you know someone who has been raped. Even if they don’t call what happened to them rape. Even if they didn’t report it (they probably didn’t report it. They might not have ever told anyone).
But this also means that I can almost guarantee that you know a rapist.
Okay. Recap. Back to the recap. Sara is shocked that LuAnn would suggest someone they know is involved, and Marsha quickly adds that surely that’s not what LuAnn meant, more that it’s safety in numbers and it’s really important to stick with groups after dark. Mary Joe’s disappearance is one thing, and everybody has a theory about it, but Marle was definitely raped by the ski-mask guy, and Diane would never go running off on her own, so something terrible must have happened.
Look, Marsha, all of those are true statements, but this is a true statement, too: nothing that you’ve said there negates the possibility that the rapist (and murderer, though I’ll give them a pass on that, because they could not know for sure) is someone you know. Maybe even someone you care about. Someone you trust.
Sara keeps noticing more and more groups of girls huddled in whispered conversations throughout the rest of the day, but “she stayed aloof from the gossip mill….” Sara. SARA. They are talking about girls just like you being hurt and raped and maybe killed. Girls like you disappearing. Maybe this is not the time to stay fucking aloof. This is not the time to be keeping secrets.
The literal next thing I read was Julie calling Sara out on this very thing. My god, book, when you are good, you are on metaphorical fire of awesome. Of course, the fight between them gets out of hand, because they are scared, and hurt, and filled with emotions, good and bad, on this day that started out so high and has crashed so low. Their fight makes sense; their fight is hard to read. Julie snaps about Sara keeping things a secret and what would they have done if Julie decided to walk alone because she didn’t know that something else had happened; Sara rightfully points out that she would never have thought that Julie would walk alone after everything that has already happened; Julie snaps about LA prejudices; Sara about Julie abandoning her normal lunch table now that she’s the junior senator. It’s all very ridiculous from the outside, but it also makes sense. I can’t stress how much this book feels real, how these things make sense. I don’t like a lot of what is happening, but it feels real in a way a lot of books (especially the Point Horrors we have recapped) are not. This fight didn’t need to happen, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel forced or out of place. [Dove: In my opinion, that’s the difference between PH and Nightmares – the Nightmares books just have a touch more reality to them, even when they’re based in supernatural.] [Wing: So I went to do some research, because I want to read more Nightmares books if they have that level of reality, but Wikipedia has informed me that The Attic and Room 13 are considered Nightmares. Now I don’t know whether to trust the Nightmares series or not. (Class Trip is apparently one, too, but my beloved Class Trip II is not listed.) Enough digression, I guess.]
Sara walks home alone (… really, Sara, after you literally just blew up at Julie because no one would ever walk home alone after what’s been happening?), sad and lonely and worried. The fight has left her devastated, and now she’s afraid that Julie really does think Sara used her to make friends, that everyone thinks that, that she’ll never really fit in — all of these are very real concerns, and I feel for her.
Liz is home by the time Sara arrives at the house, and she, of course, notices that Sara has been crying. She assumes it’s because Diane has disappeared, and Sara doesn’t really open up about anything else, even though, for a minute, she really wants to.
A couple hours later, Mike calls to see if she still wants to go out to celebrate with him, as they planned earlier. Sara is understandably exhausted from all the emotional highs and lows, and tells him she doesn’t feel well enough to go out. Mike is both disappointed, which is fine, and a little angry, which is not so much. And then he flat out says this shit:
“Oh, all the guys know the rumor that’s going around – that it’s one of us who’s the ski-mask rapist. That one of us did something to Diane. But if you think it might be me, then I’m just trying to reassure you that you won’t have to be alone with me for a minute if you don’t want to be.”
OH HELL NO.
Guys, do not do this. I get it, you’re aghast that anyone could ever be afraid of you, because you’re a pretty great dude, a good guy, dare I say, a nice guy.* (* Don’t be a Nice Guy. ) You are good to your friends. You’re polite to girls and women. You treat everyone well. You’re not one of those jerks, those dangerous men, those assholes who hurt people. How could anyone ever be afraid of you?
Here is the thing: none of that matters. None of it. If you want people to stop being afraid of you, a guy, stop your fellow guys from raping people. Cat calling people. Telling girls to smile. Telling girls to not wear so much make-up, they look slutty; to wear more make-up, they look sick. To wear longer dresses. To drink less. Stop your fellow men from being assholes to people who are different from them (and to each other). Stop your fellow boys from being dicks. Because no matter how great a guy you individually are, because we live in a patriarchal society, you are a potential threat. You have the power. You have the privilege. (Now, depending on other axis of oppression, you may have more or less power and privilege in an area, but male privilege is real, and dangerous.) If you are a man, especially if you are a straight white able-bodied cis man, you. are. a. threat. Because society has created a world in which you have the power and privilege, and if you hurt a woman, people will always assume she asked for it.
So fuck off with your anger, Mike. Fuck of into the goddamn sea. You don’t want people to have even a frisson of fear about being alone with you? Then dismantle the society we live in that bathes you with power and privilege: tear down the patriarchy; destroy white supremacy; burn the cis-sexist, heterocentric world to the fucking ground.
Back to the recap. Sara ends up crying from frustration because this conversation goes so badly, and I am heartbroken for her. She finally naps because she’s so worn out by all the emotions, and when she wakes, she’s very disoriented. She can hear Ted and Liz arguing about a car, and she thinks this might have been the noise that woke her. Once she cleans up, she heads downstairs to help her aunt set the table for dinner. Then Ted comes in and tells her that congratulations are in order, and Sara is shocked that he knows. Apparently, he heard about it when he picked up his new car that afternoon. Small town gossip, y’all. It is SRS BZNS. Ted wants to take them to Oscar’s to celebrate the next night, and Sara is amenable. She turns the talk to his new car, because she didn’t know he was getting one. This is clearly a point of tension between Liz and Ted; Ted even admits that she thinks he’s foolish to change cars so soon after the last one. Basically, he got tired of the dark blue paint job, and the new one is green. I definitely know people in real life who deal with their cars like this, and it is just as eye-rollingly obnoxious here.
Sara grinned back. When Uncle Ted was in one of his charming moods, he was pretty hard to resist. Maybe that’s why Aunt Liz put up with him.
TRUTH STATEMENT RIGHT THERE. Dangerous men generally aren’t scary guys lurking in shadows. They are the men we know, the men we may love, the men who are affable and charming and sweet right up until the moment they are not.
Sara calms down a little over dinner, and realizes that everyone is very stressed over Diane’s disappearance, and both she and Julie were reading extra things into their argument. Maybe it’s not too bad, and they’ll be able to make up after all. And then. AND THEN. Even though Sara wishes it would all blow over on its own, but afraid it won’t and she’ll lose a friend, she goes to call Julie. I am so impressed at both what Sara does and why she does it. Like, friendships are hard work! Doing things like this is important! We almost never see this kind of thing in teen fiction even today, much less during the Point Horror era! SOMETIMES I AM SO IMPRESSED WITH THIS BOOK!
Unfortunately, Julie’s not home, and her mother sounds sort of strained when she tells Sara that. Sara’s not sure if that means Julie was home and was simply refusing to talk to her, but I’m more concerned that it means Julie has disappeared.
That night, Sara has the creepy carnival dream again. This time, she hears a girl call out for help, but she can’t find her; Sara can’t even shout to let the girl know she’s there. She briefly wakes, then goes back to sleep, and immediately returns to the dream. She rides the carousel (and it is called a carousel at this point), but the animals are weird, and a little dangerous, and then who appears but the man in the ski mask. Of course. She tries to tell him to leave her alone, but the “jolly calliope music drowned out her words”. God, that is such a creepy image. He chases her off the carousel (they’re both riding their animals), and just as he’s about to catch her, she falls out of bed and wakes up. That does sound like a terrifying, horrible dream.
Because she woke up so early in terror, she gets to school super early, and sets up in the library to do some studying. Mrs Tipper, the librarian, is the only one around, and she heads off to the teacher’s lounge to get a cup of coffee, leaving Sara alone. This is, again, a really true scene. Despite all the warning about being alone, about how the girls really need to stay in groups, falls to the wayside because she’s somewhere she’s supposed to be safe. But nowhere is really safe. People can hurt you no matter where you are. And because we are drowning in rape culture, we are expected to be eternally vigilant; that is an impossible standard.
The library is set off away from most of the school, in an odd-shaped addition that was tacked onto the main school building at some point in the past; sounds are muffled there, and it is very isolated and lonely. Sara finds it easy to focus on her studying this morning, and becomes deeply engrossed in her work, until Rick Black interrupts her. Of course he does. He picks at her, and she doesn’t really have a response.
He’s being very creepy and menacing, standing too close to her chair, and when he reaches out to touch her, she hits him with one of the books, grabs her purse, and runs toward the main hall, where other people are located. Once she’s around other people, she calms down a little, and then she starts to question herself. After all, he “hadn’t exactly threatened her. In fact, what he had said would probably come across as harmless joking to anyone who hadn’t been there. But Sara had been there, and she had been scared.”
AGAIN WITH THE TRUTH OF THIS BOOK.
Sara wonders if Rick is the rapist terrorizing the school, because rape isn’t something a guy does to someone he liked, it’s an act of hostile violence, and Rick is certainly hostile.
This is partially true. Rape is an act of hostile violence, that is for sure, and is generally more about power than sexual gratification. However, people absolutely can rape someone they like. It’s more nuanced than what Sara says here. Rape is not just being thrown down and violated, whether by a stranger or by someone you know. It’s also people ignoring you when you tell them no. It’s someone getting you drunk and then taking advantage. It’s you being unable to consent, and them doing it anyway.
Sara decides to find out what Rick was doing the night Diane disappeared. She points out that it is hard to believe that someone she knew, even if it was someone she didn’t like, could do anything so horrible, but she also can’t get the thought out of her head.
When Sara gets to homeroom, she looks for Julie, and then remembers the fight they had. For awhile, Julie doesn’t show up, and this is pretty clearly an intentional tension build, but she scrambles into the room right as the tardy bell rings. They don’t get a chance to talk during homeroom, and Julie takes off before Sara gets up her nerve to say anything. After the English class they have together, Sara tries to approach her, but Melodie is in the hallway and Sara feels snubbed, and stops making advances to Julie. Shortly after, Mike’s best friend, Jeff, stops her to ask if she’s okay, because Mike was bummed she didn’t make it out with them to celebrate and kind of worried about her. This makes Sara feel good, until Melodie shows up there, too; Jeff is noticeably chillier toward her than Sara.
Though they have their next class together, Sara manages to avoid Rick until the bell rings to start the class. When she opens her textbook, though, she finds a note that says “you could be next.” Rick had plenty of time to do that, because this is the textbook she left in the library when she fled from him, and didn’t retrieve until after homeroom. Sara is angry and afraid; at first she wants to throw the note away, but then decides not to, both because she doesn’t want to give Rick the satisfaction of knowing he got to her, and also because the police might want the note. Sara is even more determined now to find out what Rick was doing on Monday night when Diane disappeared.
Mike is waiting at Sara’s locker before lunch. He gives her a big hug, and she’s pretty happy to see him. He tells her about the first student council meeting, which is the next day after school.
She then asks if Rick was with the group of guys that Mike went out with Monday night after the elections, and Mike starts to look uncomfortable and nervous. He says he didn’t end up going out with the guys because something else came up. Then he takes off to catch up with Jeff. Sara recognizes that this is strange, but focuses more on how she still doesn’t know where Rick was that night and asking Mike was her only idea of how to find out.
In the cafeteria, Julie is sitting with Melodie and Ginger again, and the rest of their friends at a bigger table. Sara is bitter that Julie is once again hanging out with Melodie, and mourns the fact that until yesterday, Sara and Julie seemed to be best friends. Then she tells herself not to be such a baby about it, and to appreciate the friends she does have, but she misses Julie, and is not looking forward to going through the rest of the year without her.
Sara tries to catch Julie in their last class of the day, but Julie takes off right after; Sara waits at her locker for awhile after school, but she never shows up. When that plan fails, Sara is feeling like the whole thing is futile, and maybe she should give up on the friendship, but she’s not ready to do that yet. Instead, she gathers her things and heads for Julie’s house.
Unfortunately, no one is home, and there’s a storm blowing in. She’s cold and sad and alone, and feeling absolutely miserable when, at last, Julie’s mom’s car swings around the corner. Sara is relieved, because Julie’s mom will let her inside to call Liz.
Except nope. It’s Julie, and she is not happy to see Sara. She does let her into the house, though; they’re both already soaked from the rain. Julie gets them towels, and then brings Sara her favorite robe. This leads to them making up; Julie admits she’s a complete hothead, and that she was going to apologize, but has been so busy. Sara asks why she’s been avoiding her, and Julie says she wasn’t, not exactly, but she’s been really upset because of her dad, who is in the hospital. Sara viscerally remembers her own mother’s illness and death, and now she’s super worried about Julie and her family.
Sara calls Liz to let her know that she’s staying for dinner at Julie’s, and then they have popcorn and hot chocolate, which kind of sounds like an amazing combination, even though I don’t like popcorn. Julie starts to close the curtains over the big picture window in the living room, but Sara asks her to leave them open, because she’s never seen a real thunderstorm before. Oh, Sara, that is both sad and adorable.
Finally, Julie admits that something has been going on. During their fight, Sara made a crack about Julie stuffing the ballot box for her in the homeroom election, and a friend of Melodie’s overheard it and, of course, told Melodie and Ginger. Since Melodie is already furious at Sara, she’s decided that Sara did cheat, and she wants her booted off student council. Ginger is going to bring it up at tomorrow’s meeting.
(Here’s how much I am enjoying this book overall: there is a bunch of casual ableism at this point, people throwing around “crazy” and “insane” as pejoratives, and I am just letting it go.)
Sara realizes that even if she gives up her seat on the student council, Melodie won’t be satisfied, and she will just keep coming for her, because that’s what bullies do, they don’t quit when someone backs away, they keep pushing and pushing. MORE TRUTH.
Sara and Julie try to come up with a plan, but by the time they’ve finished the popcorn and several cups of cocoa, they still don’t have one. They head over to Jake’s for pizza, and at first it is nice, because it’s mostly empty, but then a group of guys, including Rick Black, come in. Just what Sara needs.
Julie doesn’t understand why Sara is concerned, and when Sara asks if Rick is violent or dangerous, Julie says, offhand, that he’s got kind of a temper, but if she wants to see a short fuse, she should see Mike when he gets steamed about something. “You’d never think a sweetheart like Mike could get violent, but believe me, when he blows up, watch out.”
Sara doesn’t really note this, because she’s more concerned with Rick and his friends, who get their pizza to go, and leave after just a few minutes. She’s still focused on figuring out if he is the rapist, and still wondering if she blew the incident in the library all out of proportion.It doesn’t have to be either or, Sara. Whether or not he is the specific rapist in question here, he is certainly terrorizing you, including in the library.
They go back to trying to figure out what to do about Ginger and Melodie, and there’s some more casual fat hate. Good times, good times. I love how something can be so progressive in some ways, and still perpetuate really shitty things in others. Eventually, Sara decides she should suggest a re-vote, because she’s heard the rumors, and she’s worried that she won’t be able to represent her homeroom well if other kids on the council can’t take her seriously. (Not sure she’d call them kids; teens don’t normally call each other kids.) She also refuses to let Julie do any campaigning for her, because it will destroy her credibility.
At lunch, Sara learns that they’ve found Diane’s body. God, I knew it, and this is heartbreaking. The details, in brief: she was strangled somewhere else and dumped in the river where she was found. Everyone is understandably freaked out, and classes are subdued.
Finally, we get to the student council meeting. There are 12 homeroom representatives, 6 class senators, and 4 student body officers; they sit in a rough square so everyone can see everyone else. Damien Weiss is the president, and he is very popular (shocking, I know; I mean, student body president, whoever would have guessed); he introduces himself to Damien first thing, and then calls the meeting to order. Sara speaks first, before they even go over the agenda. Sara explains her plan, Mike leaps to her defense, and Damien agrees to the re-vote if she thinks it will settle things.
Once they get through their agenda, Nina Phelps, a tenth grade senator (age 14 -15) brings up the rumors about Diane being murdered, and how scared everyone is. She asks what they can do to protect themselves, whether they should start a buddy system. Mr Donahue, who I assume is the principal, plans to have a school-wide assembly the next day (I would have held an emergency assembly that afternoon; there have been rumors for awhile now, and he has to know how fast news spreads), and the police will be there to talk about safety issues. In the meantime, he suggests everyone just be extra careful. Then he says the buddy system is a good idea, none of the girls should be alone, and he can give anyone a ride who needs it, they shouldn’t walk home by themselves. Which is all well and good, but again predicated on the idea that the rapist must be some scary stranger and not one of the people at the school.
Sara and Julie walk to Sara’s house after school, and Julie is confident that Sara will win the election again. Sara is not, and is still concerned that she only won because of Julie’s popularity and enthusiastic support.
At the house, Liz has been in a cooking frenzy, but wait, weren’t they supposed to go to dinner? Or did that already happen off-screen? While I really like the pacing of this book, it’s hard to keep specific days straight, because those markers are vague.
At dinner, Liz asks if anything exciting happened at school, and Ted speaks up before Sara or Julie can say anything with this little gem: I guess a girl from school getting raped and murdered could count as exciting news.
WHAT THE EVER LIVING FUCK WAS THAT?!
I could give him the benefit of the doubt, because on the surface, that is maybe just an awkward way to communicate the point, which is that yes, something really terrible has happened and it has shaken the school. But after all his other bullshit in this book, NO NO BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT FOR YOU FUCK YOU, TED, I AM GOING TO SET YOU ON FIRE.
AND THEN TED JOKES ABOUT KNOWING WHERE TO KILL SOMEONE, OUT AT THE OLD DERELICT BARN HE INHERITED.
Now yes, Liz reprimands him that this is no joking matter, and yes, sometimes people have a terrible sense of humor. (I joke about death and setting people on fire and punching them in the face often, for one thing.) But this is not an actual person making inappropriate jokes. This is a character, and the author chose to write this, and it seems like it is either one of two things: setting him up as terrible because he is the Muffin Man, or setting up a giant red herring, and either way, this is way too lighthearted and bullshit for what has actually happened, which is that a teenager girl was raped and killed.
Ted then suggests that old Jim Johnson who keeps the hay cut and the weeds under control out at that property is a pretty weird guy and maybe he’s the killer. FUCK OFF AND DIE, TED. [Dove’s only flippant comment of the recap: No, he’s not, he writes the entrance music for WWE.] [Wing: And does a bang-up job of it, too.]
The next morning in homeroom, Damien himself introduces the re-vote, but Dick Stone speaks up and says that a lot of them know what the rumors are and who started them, and they think it is garbage. If there has to be a vote, he says they should make it unanimous, and does a public vote by raising hands. Sara is the only one who doesn’t vote at first, until Dick talks her into it. Sara is overwhelmed by their support, and thinks back on some of her more uncharitable thoughts on the very first morning.
At lunch, Mike tells her he knows it was Melodie, and that he’s cut all ties with her, even friendship. Then he says he forgot he has to go to a birthday dinner for his grandmother in a nearby town, so he’ll be gone all night, but he wants to go out after the football game the next day. Um. So many problems here. First, I don’t remember them having plans for Friday night as it is, but okay, I can let that go. Second, high school football is played on Friday night, not Saturday during the day. That’s college football. Friday night lights is a phrase for a reason. Third, even if they did have a game on Saturday (which they wouldn’t), how early does he need to get up anyway?
Then we have the all-school assembly. Mr Donahue (who is the principal) sums up what they know and then introduces Chief Patterson to talk about safety. As with everyone else, he warns them not to go anywhere alone, but adds not even to school if they can help it. Then Mr Donahue tells them there will be a memorial service for Diane on Tuesday afternoon. They will be released early from school if they want to attend, and Diane’s mother has said they are all welcome. They have a moment of silence, and then everyone leaves looking sad and serious, some of them in tears.
Sara heads to gym class next, but Mrs Hernandez, the instructor, is as sad as everyone else, and instead of playing a game, they all go for a walk to work off a little of the tension and sadness. Even Mrs Brooks in economics is sad, and holds off on homework, telling them just to re-examine their budgets and lists of assets and liabilities.
Saturday (there is no high school football on Saturday at this point in the season oh my god) (I actually just looked up the author to see if maybe she is not from the USA, but I can’t find any information other than a list of books she published. This is how frustrated I am by this one little detail that is off. Maybe if they were at playoffs, the game would be on a Saturday, but we’re not that far into the year yet. Okay. Deep breath. I need to just let this one go.)
ANYWAY. Saturday is bright and crisp, the perfect weather for football. I love autumn and marching band season and football games. This is delightful. Marsha drives a bunch of them over to the game. We learn that Sara is 15, and she will be 16 in a month. (This is on the young side to be a junior. For example, I was one of the youngest in my friends’ group in high school, and I turned 16 halfway through sophomore year.) Ted thinks teen drivers are too dangerous and expensive to drive, which is a fair point, but obnoxious because Ted is obnoxious and terrible.
However, Sara’s dad has already given her permission, and I would assume he would pay for the insurance and things (and should pay for the car if he wants her to have one while he’s gone), so I don’t really see what the issue is for Ted, except that Ted is an abusive control freak bastard. Sara decides to write to her dad, because his phone calls are always too rushed to talk about the big stuff. This is a good idea, but then, even in the middle of all this terror about people being raped and killed, Sara actually has the thought that turning sixteen and not being allowed to drive is pretty much the worst thing that could happen to anyone and I nearly put out my eye, I faceplanted so hard on my desk. SARA COME ON. (Though I suppose this could be a good example of how self-centered people can become.)
Focus. I’m focused, I swear. Julie, LuAnn, Marsha, Shari, and Sara all get seats together halfway up the stands near the fifty-yard line, which is basically the middle of the football field and sound like pretty decent seats. You’d want to go higher to really see the marching band performance, but that sounds like a good balance between that and being able to see the football player you like.
Mike makes the first touchdown, and Sara is super enthusiastic. By halftime, both teams had scored three touchdowns and scored some extra points, so they were tied at 20 to 20. That is a pretty high school for the first half of a high school football game, but I guess they could both be exceptional teams. Toward the end of the game, Melodie comes up behind them while Sara is cheering for Mike, and then dumps her soda over Sara’s head, which is really petty and shitty, but also kind of hilarious. Dick, who is sitting near them but not with them, offers up his stadium blanket so Sara doesn’t freeze. Exactly how late in the year is it? Everything else that has happened should have been early in the year (or, as in the football tryouts, at the latest over the summer), but they’re acting like it’s late October or early November when I think it is only mid- to late-September. I know it gets cold early in Ohio, but this is ridiculous.
Toward the end of the fourth quarter, Mike makes another touchdown, and then Dick offers to drive Sara home because she’s so cold. She tells her friends where she’s going and that she’ll catch up with Mike later at Jake’s (the pizza place), and then heads home. Sara gets cleaned up and then has Liz drop her off at Jake’s. She feels awkward walking in by herself, though, and hesitates, before giving herself a pep talk and going inside.
Mike is there, but he’s not too happy. He’s pissed that she took off from the game, and makes a crack about not understanding why changing her clothes was more important than meeting up with him. I know he doesn’t know what happened, but damn it, Mike, don’t be a dick. Before Sara can explain anything, Julie and Marsha turn up, and Julie tells Mike he’d better put his ex-girlfriend on a leash. COME ON, PEOPLE. He doesn’t not control her; she may be terrible, but Melodie acts of her own accord. Get a grip.
They end up having a really good time at Jake’s, and then Mike and Sara take off to go to the movies. Instead of heading to the mall (or the small theater he likes so much), they end up at the fairgrounds. Apparently, everyone in town knows how to jiggle the padlock on the smaller gate and open it up so they can hang out after hours. Sara didn’t get to town early enough in the summer to go to the fair, so Mike tells her about it, and it does sound pretty great. I love fairs and little carnivals, even though they can also be super creepy; to be honest, mostly because they can be super creepy. Mike talks about growing up and some of his adventures at the fair, and that is all sweet. Then he tells Sara she’s good for him, because the last time he was there, he ran around the fence twice before he cooled down because he was so worked up about something, but she mellows him out and lets him talk about dumb stuff without thinking about how he’d like to punch somebody’s lights out. I’m all for finding the person who mellows you (Dove and Mr Wing mellow me sometimes, but generally just encourage my wrath [Dove: Sometimes it’s funny to watch your anger.]), but this feels like really blatant red herringness.
Mike finally tells Sara what happened that Monday night after the elections. As expected, Melodie got ahold of him and sounded really sad, so they went for a ride and talked. Melodie tried to get back together with him, and he’s still really bitter about how things happened when they were dating, talking about how Melodie treats people like possessions to keep or toss away. He says that someday someone will teach her a serious lesson about human relationships, and Sara thinks it sounds like a threat and hopes that Melodie never runs into Mike in a deserted place like the fairgrounds. You mean, like you are, Sara? Also, he’s allowed to be angry at Melodie. You can be angry at her, too.
Sara gets home after midnight, and Ted is waiting up for her. He starts grilling her about where she’s been. She stops the smartass reply that comes to mind first and gives him a brief rundown, then says that she’s sorry he was worried, but it’s Saturday night, not a school night, and they are all being very careful after what happened to Diane. Ted tells her that he knows she thinks he’s being unfair, and that he knows she’s not one of those smart-mouth kids who hang out at the Tavern like Diane (ONCE AGAIN VICTIM FUCKING BLAMING), but he points out she’s a beautiful young girl and men can be dangerous. Which is true, but YOU ARE A FUCKING MAN AND YOU SURE THE HELL ARE ACTING INAPPROPRIATE AND DANGEROUS, TED.
We skip ahead to Tuesday, which is the day of Diane’s memorial (now called a funeral). At lunch, LuAnn comes in with the news that they’ve caught the ski-mask rapist. Off of Marlene’s testimony, the guy matches his description, and they found the ski mask and have some physical evidence linking him to Marlene. (Of course, there are no details on that evidence, which is right for this part of the investigation.) Apparently, it is a 30-year-old construction worker, Lee Dumling, who already has a record for assaults against women in Michigan. (For those of you unfamiliar with US geography, Michigan is the state directly above Ohio; it is easy to get from one to the other, especially if you are going from southern Michigan into northern Ohio and vice versa.) They are kind of shocked that he is married, and LuAnn talks about how disturbing it would be to suddenly learn that your husband was a rapist and a killer. That is a good point, but it also feels like a red herring and foreshadowing all at the same time.
The memorial is not written in great detail, but Diane’s mom is really grateful that everyone showed up, and there is a good turnout from the school. On the drive home after, Julie and Marsha mention to Sara that Diane had another group of friends, a bunch of guys from the Tavern, but her mom didn’t know she was hanging out there, and they’re glad the guys didn’t show up. Sara does not put two and two together that Ted also knew about Diane hanging out at the Tavern, probably because he goes there too.
Julie stays for dinner again, and they talk a little about the police catching the killer. Liz says, very sadly, that there’s nothing in the world that would make Diane’s mother feel better about losing her child, but at least the killer is behind bars and no one else will be hurt. They’ve just watched the news report about it when Ted gets home, and then watch the rerun, too. Julie says at the end that she wishes they would cut off his balls before they electrocute him, which shocks the adults.
And then, of course, Ted points out that Lee Dumling has been arrested, not convicted, and our legal system is based on innocent until proven guilty. Which is true of the legal system itself, but — okay, I’ll try to keep this rant short. Most rapes are not reported. If they are reported, they are often not investigated. If they are investigated, there are often not any arrests made. If there is an arrest made, there are often no convictions. If there is a conviction, it is often very light, at least for straight white guys. These things happen for a lot of reasons, but the point to take away here is that just because someone was accused of rape and then was never convicted does not actually mean innocent.
I’ve said this elsewhere, I say it often, and I will say it here, too: the system is set against believing rape survivors, the system does not protect us, the system does not help. I believe you. It’s not your fault.
Over dinner, they talk about Sara’s new idea to push for off-campus lunches for students. Liz thinks it’s not a bad idea; Ted wants to know who would make sure they came back if they were allowed off, and talks about how much trouble they would get into if they left campus, and how dangerous it would be for them to pile into cars to ride all over looking for someplace to eat. He makes a valid point. My high school did not have off-campus food when I attended, though I have friends who went to schools that did. I think it would have been cool, but I grew up in a small town, and there weren’t a ton of food options that were close enough to the school to do something like that. Even at university, we mostly ate on campus when we lived on campus, because there weren’t a ton of restaurants near enough to walk. [Dove: We were allowed off campus lunches, but they cunningly placed the school over a mile away from the nearest shops. Most of that mile was the school drive. Not even joking.] [Wing: A school drive that is nearly a mile long sounds super fancy, I have to say.]
Sara’s next bit of inspiration is to bring regular restaurants on campus, food outlets in the cafeteria. There are schools that do this too, even smaller local schools now.
At the end of dinner, Liz announces that she’s been asked to bid on decorating a new hotel that is being built. (In the industrial park, which is a strange place for a hotel, but I’m not going to nitpick here. [Dove: I’m leaning towards Hastings being a non-American now, because we have hotels in industrial parks… I can’t honestly explain why, other than England lacks space.] [Wing: That is a perfectly sound reason.] Besides, there is something much worse coming.) She’s all excited, but Ted starts to knock her down immediately; while it’s an honor to be asked to bid, she’s small time, it’s a big project, they’ll go with the large firms they already use, etc. etc. etc. Fuck you, Ted. You should be supporting her dreams! She’s really kicking ass with her business, and even if she wasn’t, she deserves your support. Liz is determined to do this, and good for her! But it means she’ll be out of town for a couple days for the preliminary meetings. She’s staying with a lawyer friend who lives in Cincinnati (I have the hardest time spelling that, and I have multiple friends who live there), and I hope she has a blast and kicks butt.
Later, Julie tells Sara that Ted is hard to take, and I fucking agree.
On Wednesday, construction workers find Mary Jo’s body in a landfill outside of town. She had been hidden in the landfill not long after she had been reported missing, and now everyone is wondering if Lee Dumling killed her too. (The assumption is yes.)
Liz leaves for her trip, and before she does, she tells Sara not to worry about making sure Ted’s dinner is ready. Rock on. That is about damn time. Sara rattles around the house alone for awhile, feeling strange, and then calls Julie to go to the mall for dinner with her. They run into Martha, and has more information about Lee Dumling. The latest news is that he probably didn’t kill anybody. He has an alibi for the night Diane disappeared. It’s a pretty terrible one, he was raping another girl elsewhere, but his attorney convinced him that he was better of confession to rape than being stuck with a murder charge. So he’ll be convicted for Marlene and the girl he raped that Monday night, but not for Diane or Mary Jo, and their killer is still out there (or killers, since their deaths were so far apart).
When Sara gets home, Ted is friendly on the surface, asking about her night, but Sara is deeply creeped out by him. She keeps questioning herself, not understanding why she feels the way she does, but she can’t stop feeling it. She’s worried the next couple days without Liz will be long and awkward.
Mike and Sara make plans to go to the movies Friday night, but first to dinner at Jake’s, and we learn there actually is a Jake, an old guy who started the place back when Mike’s dad was in high school, so awhile ago. Mike warns her that he’s heard that Jake has tried to hook up with a few of the high school girls, and this is so gross, and so casual, and so true to how things go. I think readers will feel like there are no good guys at all, but this is such a real thing. Good guys can be creepy and do creepy things and casually treat women in shitty ways without even meaning it, without even realizing it, because society encourages this. Society lets it happen. Society is so fucking casual about it, just like this.
[Dove: This. One night, aged… possibly seventeen? I went out with my alleged girlfriend, she took me to a pub I’d never been to before. I didn’t know the area, and was relying on her to get me out of there at closing time. She ended up talking to a guy in his mid-forties, and he was very charmed by the idea that a self-confessed lesbian was hitting on him (right in front of her girlfriend, no less), and kept buying us drinks. Which I did not accept (my cousin had been roofied in the same town a few weeks before, so I was super-wary). The man’s friends arrived, and they were older. At least pensioner age. The oldest took a shine to me, and kept holding my hand, despite my repeated statements of “No”, “Stop”, “Don’t touch me”, etc. Eventually, he reached over and tried to kiss me. I ducked out of the way, and wound up with his tongue in my ear. He gave a big final lick down my cheek and I slapped him so hard his false teeth fell out. My girlfriend then slapped me for offending her new (drink-buying) friends. And I was asked to leave the pub for showing such blatent disrespect for a pensioner. And I hadn’t even thought of that night in well over a decade until now.
And to show there are great guys in the world too: meet Bob, my purely platonic best friend. I called Bob from a payphone in the middle of bloody nowhere, and cried down the phone to him. Bob got a taxi to meet me (which would have cost him at least two days’ wages, given how little we earned back then) and then he stayed with me that night so I wasn’t alone. Also, I broke up with Girlfriend, which is what Bob had been telling me to do since day one, because she was a manipulator with no regard for who she destroyed.]
[Wing: I’m sorry that happened to you, and I’m glad Bob was a good friend.]
They end up talking about the murders over dinner, which makes sense because it is such a big deal. Mike is a little dismissive; he thinks it was just random deaths, not a serial killer, even though the police apparently think it is just one killer. Mike then realizes that Sara is considering whether Rick did it, and Mike thinks this is “crazy” (fuck you, Mike), because even if he has problems (and Mike literally just finished saying he has problems and is kind of terrible), there’s no way he would actually hurt anyone. Mike then agrees to help her figure out where Rick was that night, even if only because he is adamant that Rick didn’t hurt anyone.
Saturday, Liz calls with good news: she’s been invited to meet with the big boss on Monday; she’s a finalist! This really is amazing news, and I’m so happy for her. So is Sara, except that it means Liz will be gone at least three more days. Poor Sara.
There’s another football game, their high school wins but there are two fights on the field and the other team’s players get kicked out for unnecessary roughness, violence under the guise of organized sports, moving on. Mike and Sara go to Jake’s yet again, and I may not be able to eat pizza for awhile after how many times they’ve had it. Before they start flirting and visiting with their friends, Mike says he talked to Rick, and that Monday night was Rick’s birthday, so he was at dinner with his folks at Oscar’s. (I’m pretty sure there are three places to eat in this town: Jake’s, Oscar’s, and the fucking mall.) Plus he couldn’t have sneaked out of the house after dinner because his car had a flat tire and it wasn’t fixed until Tuesday, story corroborated by other people.
They leave pretty late, and a couple of drunk guys pull into the parking lot, I think players from the other school that lost. They try to grab Sara, and Mike starts brawling with them. Jake comes out, orders someone to call the cops, and takes a baseball bat out to break it up. Mike has already knocked out one of the guys, and is beating the shit out of the other. I guess we finally get to see his infamous temper. Once Jake and Sara pull him off the guy, he and Sara leave before the cops arrive because he says Jake can handle it. Umm, you were in the middle of that, you should probably stick around, kid.
As they’re kissing good-bye, Ted comes out, angry and demanding, and then gets even pissier because he can tell Mike has been fighting. He sends Mike home and demands that Sara go inside, then tells her she won’t see him again, and if she does, she’ll be grounded permanently. Sara is furious and humiliated, and I think Ted is being controlling and unreasonable, so.
Sara has the carnival dream again, though the man no longer wears the ski mask. She still can’t make out his face, though. Then she sees another woman in her dream, a golden haired fairy princess, and she realizes the man is trying to catch the princess, not Sara, and Sara is actually racing him to try to save her. These dreams are turning out to be just a leeeetle too on the nose, aren’t they? I mean, for a book without a supernatural element. If they were prophetic dreams and this was magical realism, I’d be down, but they’re not.
Anyway, Sara wakes up feeling like the dream is trying to tell her something, but she can’t figure out what. She spends Sunday trying to avoid Ted, and doesn’t even go downstairs to eat until she knows he has left the house. Once he does, she calls Julie, and rushes through telling her what happened. Julie comes over to help her deal with it. She talks Sara down from calling Liz, who is in a stressful situation enough as it is and also can’t help from afar, and then comes up with a plan to tell Ted good things about Mike so that he will like him better, and suggests that the only way they will be able to get him to listen is if she apologizes to him first. They even cook him a really nice meal first. Julie’s plan seems to go really well, especially as she talks about how she wishes she could find a boyfriend as smart and protective and wonderful as Mike. I’m glad all this is glossed over in the text, because I kind of want to throw up right now.
Julie plans to call her mom for a ride, but Ted offers her one instead. He also won’t let Sara go with them because Liz might call and also she must have homework. Julie spins this with a hint that Sara should call Mike, but this is a giant fucking red flag, people. GIANT. RED. FLAG.
After they leave, Sara feels like something is off about it. No shit, Sara, that was fucking weird.
Sara waits until she thinks Julie should be home, then calls her to thank her for her help, but she’s not there. Then not again later, and Julie’s mom is starting to get worried. Sara is too, because she finally figures out what was wrong:
There was something wrong and now she knew what it was. Uncle Ted hadn’t looked like someone giving his niece’s teenage girlfriend a ride home on the way to run errands. He’d acted like a man going out on a date. The way he’d helped Julie on with her jacket, the way he’d casually put his hand on her shoulder and opened the car door for her – that wasn’t how Uncle Ted usually was.
Was it possible that Uncle Ted had misinterpreted Julie’s enthusiasm all evening? Could he have thought she was coming on to him? Sara sneered at the idea. The thought that anyone her age would be interested in Uncle Ted was ridiculous.
Wait a minute, she said to herself. If he did think that, why would he encourage it? She and Julie were only teenagers and her uncle was old enough to be Julie’s father and then some. There’d have to be something really wrong with a man that age making a play for a junior in high school.
And what if he did come on to Julie? Sara winced as this new thought crossed her mind. She could see Julie laughing her head off if some old guy like her uncle tried to kiss her or something. In her mind’s eye she saw the scene; she could almost feel her uncle’s flashing anger. What would he do then? Rape her? Try to throttle her when he realized she’d tell everyone what a fool he’d been?
Sara’s hands flew to her mouth. “Oh, no,” she cried aloud. Her dream and reality merged and suddenly Sara felt certain that her uncle was a killer.
Sara calls and leaves a message for Mike to meet her out at her uncle’s old deserted barn on Smithtown Road. I know this is a small town, but I certainly hope she’s actually told Mike more details about the location. Sara takes Liz’s Explorer and heads out. (Oh, she thinks about one time she and Mike drove past it and she pointed it out to him. Okay then. How convenient.) It was easy enough to find it in the daylight, but hard to find in the dark. She’s terrified she won’t be fast enough to save Julie.
When she arrives on the lane, there’s no sign of Ted’s car, and she is relieved. The lane is too narrow for her to turn around, though, and so she drives very slowly up to the barn, hoping to find a space to turn around. She follows the lane around back, and as she slowly tries to turn the big Explorer around, she finds Ted’s cars nestled among the trees and bushes at the edge of the clearing. Sara, understandably, freaks the fuck out. Though silently.
She parks the Explorer out of sight and makes her way back to the car. It’s empty, so she tries the barn next. For a long time, she doesn’t hear anything, and then Julie screams, and Sara races into the barn. Julie and Ted are in the hayloft, and he is crooning at her, saying how much she wants him, how she told him so herself.
When he sees Sara climbing the ladder, he grabs Julie’s hair and tells Sara to go home, they’ll pretend she never saw anything. Sara rushes at him and knocks everyone down, then hits him until he lets Julie go so he can defend himself. Together, Julie and Sara knock the breath out of him, and for a moment, he is still. Then he roars to his feet and grabs them; no matter how much they fight back now, he’s too strong for them, and drags them to the edge of the hayloft, where they are going to have a “very nasty accident” he says.
Sara accuses Ted of killing Diane and Mary Jo, and he does not deny it. Instead, he calls them tramps, just like Sara and Julie, and talks about how they led him on and then when he did what comes naturally, they threatened to tell, so he had to stop them. Sara promises they won’t tell, as she’s trying to disarm him with her words, but Julie is angry and screams at him. He gets mad enough he lets go of Sara so he can hit Julie, and Sara grabs Julie’s arm, pulls her away, and shoves Ted toward the edge of the hayloft. For a second, he catches himself against the ladder, but then it pulls free and he falls. They think he’s dead, but then he gets up and threatens them some more, though his left arm is broken. He gets in his car and takes off; Sara says he can’t get past the Explorer, but he squeezes past it somehow; they can hear the shriek of metal against metal.
After a bit, they hear a car crash and then footsteps running down the lane, and are terrified. Then Mike bursts into the barn, and Sara is so relieved. She tries to quickly tell him what happened, and points him to the ladder; instead of letting the girls come down, he goes up to hug Sara. That could have been stupid, but then they make it to the barn floor. Sara and Julie are scared that he will come back, but Mike says he’s gone, he smashed into Mike’s car at the entrance of the lane and took off down the road, plus the cops will be there soon.
When the cops arrive (Mike called LuAnn’s dad, because he’s known to be cool and wouldn’t make fun of them if it wasn’t actually anything serious), Sara and Julie tell him the story, and they get a police escort home. They also learn that Ted’s car went out of control and he was dead when the troopers found him. Sara finally starts to cry, mostly because of poor Liz, who is out of town and doesn’t even know.
There’s a lot of talking and making plans to get Liz home and make sure Sara isn’t alone in the house, but eventually, she and Julie are alone, and Julie tells her what happened. He suggested they go for a drive, and Julie went along with it because she thought it would give her more time to sing Mike’s praises, but then things went terribly wrong. Julie says that at one point she thought about just letting him do it, so she could survive, if she let him have what he wanted, maybe he wouldn’t hurt her, but she just couldn’t do it. They both know that if Sara hadn’t come out there, Julie would have ended up like Diane and Mary Jo.
The next week is mostly summarized. We don’t see Sara talking to the police, but she doesn’t explain how exhausting the long interviews were, and how she never wanted to go through that ordeal again, even though they were kind and patient. Now imagine what it would be like if they weren’t kind and patient. If they kept asking about how much you had to drink, and why did you wear that short skirt, and why would you be out that late, what were you expecting? Because that’s how rape survivors get treated by the cops. By their friends and family. By the media. By strangers.
Liz is, of course, struggling too, and blaming herself for not knowing, not seeing, not stopping Ted. Eventually she gets some counseling (from a minister, though), and starts to heal. Sara needs help, too, because despite the fact that she knows it shouldn’t, the whole thing has left her feeling dirty and ashamed. She has done nothing wrong. She knows she did nothing wrong. And yet the whole process is so terrible that she still feels dirty and ashamed. This is a best case scenario, Sara is a middle class straight white girl, and she still feels dirty and ashamed. It just gets worse for other people.
We end with Liz and Sara talking about not just finishing her junior year in Ohio, but her senior year as well (I’m shocked, I tell you), and Sara making plans with Mike for a ride to school in the morning. It’s a quiet ending, but also, I think, real.
There’s a lot this book gets right, and for most of it, Hastings doesn’t pull any punches when she portrays the insidiousness of rape culture. While I think the end works, I think it is all wrapped up too easily, because generally, this is not how a rape case will go. It won’t be tied up with a convenient death and friendly cops who listen to what you have to say. The community won’t band together to believe you no matter what. Questions will be intrusive and terrible, they will look for lies, they will strip you bare literally and figuratively. Plus there are moments where it feels like characterization has been pushed aside in favor of setting up a red herring, but for the most part, I think Hastings does an excellent job of capturing the ways people, particularly men and boys, can be good people, nice people, and still do shitty, sexist, dangerous things.
Go out there, my dears, and let us take what we know and change the world. And if it won’t change, we will burn it to the ground and rise from the ashes scarred and angry and new.