Monday, May 19, 2014

Tease by Amanda Maciel: a review

From debut author Amanda Maciel comes a provocative and unforgettable novel, inspired by real-life incidents, about a teenage girl who faces criminal charges for bullying after a classmate commits suicide.

Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault. At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who's ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy. And she'll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.

With its powerful narrative, unconventional point of view, and strong anti-bullying theme, this coming-of-age story offers smart, insightful, and nuanced views on high school society, toxic friendships, and family relationships.

I will not be rating this book. But don’t think that my not assigning a star rating means this is a bad book or I didn’t like it. I actually liked it quite a bit, the problem is I don’t think I got it. At least not in the way the author intended.

WARNING: I express some pretty unpopular opinions in the review below. You might disagree with me vehemently or even want to throw heavy things at my head. Consider yourselves warned. 

I browsed through the other GR reviews and they all said things like “it’s fascinating to see inside the mind of a vile,awful, soulless bully and hear the lousy excuses she makes to justify her horrible actions.” Clearly that’s what most people got out of this book. So I just assume that either 90% of readers didn’t see past the first layer of what was intended to be a complex, layered and morally grey story, or that I didn’t read the same book as everyone else.

Because from page one, even knowing what was coming (blurbs are evil, they always spoil) I couldn’t bring myself to dislike Sara and, more importantly, I couldn’t bring myself to feel so much as a shred of sympathy for Emma. I’m no stranger to being bullied, and bullying has forced me into some very dark places for most of high school. But also, I encountered way too many such, ahem, Emmas in my life to feel any kind of compassion for her. So you go clean the tonsils of other girls’ boyfriends with your tongue in your spare time, and then play the victim when people call you out on your crap? Okay. If it all had turned out to be a terrible misunderstanding and Emma really was just the type who gets along easier with guys… I could have mustered some sympathy. But knowingly sleeping with other girls’ boyfriends? Bullying has nothing to do with it, it’s basic human interaction 101. And don’t be surprised if these girls aren’t rushing out to be your new BFF, you know?

Maybe it’s tough not to relate to Sara when Emma steals her boyfriend because I remember being in that situation at that age. When you’re sixteen and someone steals your boyfriend, that’s huge. It’s not like, meh, oh well, his loss, tomorrow is another day

Mind you, Sara wasn’t always the most sympathetic character. The way she followed Brielle and her boyfriend around like a lost puppy made her look weak and spineless. I suppose it was an intentional choice, these qualities being an integral part of her character. Had she been a stronger character, the story might have played out way differently--but that doesn’t mean being inside her head for 300+ pages was any less dull. She had all the personality of plain toast. Even the elements that were supposed to make her sympathetic and human, like her missing dad and her warm relationship with her mom and brothers, didn’t add much.

Brielle could have been much more nuanced and interesting, just like Sara’s boyfriend, whose name I forgot because he didn’t make much of an impression. He was a generic asshole boyfriend without many redeeming qualities and Brielle was a stereotypical rich mean girl. I don’t think that a book dealing with such a complex subject can settle for stereotypes. I don’t believe anyone is all bad or all good, and some exploration of Brielle and the boyfriend would have been nice.

My final verdict (if you even made it this far without unfollowing me on every social media platform): If you want a book with a multifaceted and profound look at a bully’s mind “from within”, I recommend Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. Her characters manage to be deeply unsympathetic but relatable, and the issues are complex and layered. I'm completely at a loss about Tease. Either it missed its mark completely (at least where I’m concerned) or the author is a freaking genius who made me sympathize with a bully. Either way, it’s worth a read. I’m very curious what you think. 


  1. I don't think you missed the mark at all. I agree with everything you wrote actually, and I've been pushing this book on everyone I know. I think the fact that Sara was flawed and often horrible, but also a follower, makes her closer to an "every girl" than most teens, or parents, would like to admit.

    1. I'm happy I'm not alone in this. Reading all the GR reviews made me wonder if I was a soulless sociopath :)
      When you think about it, Sara fits the profile of a "classic" bully: deeply insecure and compensating for it by putting down others--especially those she's secretly envious of (like Emma and her ease with guys and her beauty). But as a reader I still don't hate her, if anything I feel sorry for her.
      All this is definitely the mark of a skilled author. I'm sort of pushing this book on everyone I know too, just to see if I'm totally crazy.