Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: Rites of Passage

Title: Rites of Passage
Author: Joy N. Hensley
Published: September 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen

Book, I wanted to like you. Your premise seemed so promising! A YA novel about a girl who enrolls in military school -- into the first co-educational class of said military school. This spoke to me on many levels. For one, when I was a kid, I was fascinated by the movie G.I. Jane, which was constantly being aired on USA, for some reason. I can trace the moment I became a feminist to when O'Neil shouts, "**** ** ****!" and then breaks Urgayle's nose. To top that off, one of my favorite books of all time, Saving Francesca, deals with a girl who has enrolled in the first ever co-educational class of a previously all-male school, and the amazing and hilarious outcome. 

So, I started into you, book, with high expectations, only to see those expectations be quickly and spectacularly dashed.

There are cliched characterizations, awkward descriptions, and an unbelievable plot. That was enough to disinterest me, but then something started to grab my attention. A motif, I dare say. A recurring element that astonished me enough that I finished the entire book before I knew it. That motif was... legs. 

When Kelly shuffles around, trying to get comfortable, his leg comes to rest against mine. I scoot to my right.“You okay?” Kelly whispers on my left. He keeps his eyes on the screen but he’s got a grin on his face.“Yeah. Just tired.”He shifts again, and before I know it, we’re back where we started, legs pressed against each other and uneasiness hanging between us. 

What. the. hell?

He sets the guitar down beside him and scoots closer, leaning against me, his hand just next to my leg.
He looks up from his book, scooting his chair closer. Now it’s not just his foot touching mine, but his leg. His lips twitch when he sees me swallow hard. 
I feel his leg against mine, his arm a heavy weight on the blanket. 
 He sighs and turns to face me, leaning back on the armrest and pressing his leg against mine. 
 Beneath the table he stretches his legs out, resting one against my calf. 
Heat sears my face. I shift a little, sinking down in my seat, his hand moving an inch or two higher on my leg. To keep from looking him, I start skimming the journal. 
His foot has been touching mine for seven minutes and right now I don’t have the strength to even try putting up a fight. 

There's more where that came from, but I have to stop before I hurl. 

What gives?? I would be okay with the depiction of sexual harassment in this book -- hell, I would expect it, given the subject matter -- except that this behavior is never addressed as sexual harassment, is never criticized, and is never stopped. As a few of the above quotations involve Sam's love interest and all that scooting is consensual, I don't really have a problem with those aside from the weird proliferation of leg-based come-ons in this book. But, a good number of the leg quotes involve a "friend" of Sam's, who repeatedly initiates unsolicited and unrequited physical contact. It's creepy, and it's never even called out for its creepiness.

Maybe I'm extra sensitive to this crap as I was sexually harassed as a teenager, by a co-worker. Maybe all these shifty legs won't bother other readers as much as they bothered me. However, I came into this book expecting a kick-ass heroine, but left disappointed and unimpressed by a character who doesn't stand up for herself.

He lets his hand rest at the base of my neck and we stand like that for a second, the heat of his skin making me nervous. He gives me that dimpled grin again and I know it doesn’t matter how much I deny it or tell Cross that she can have him. I’m in serious trouble with him. Even if I try to keep away from him, this boy is not going to give up. 


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