As usual, I went into Going Under blind. I didn’t even know the genre, which is a very mature YA/NA. I must point out, right here, that there is a detailed rape scene in this book, so if this is a trigger for you, don’t read it. Otherwise, you really should. It is very hard to write this without giving to much away, but I will not go further than the blurb, as usual.
“You think you know what to expect. You think you have it all planned out. But something in you always surprises you, and it’s a buzzing undercurrent that keeps you silently guessing until your picture is complete.”
The characters in this story are 18, and seniors in high school. Though they were very, very mature for their ages. This was an emotional book, but not as emotional and heartbreaking as it could have been. In fact, it had a lightness, despite the dark topic. (OK, I know I sound a little loony, but I can’t think of another way of saying it.)
The story begins with Brooklyn (Brooke) attending her best friend, Beth’s funeral. Beth committed suicide. Brooklyn had been sleeping with her boyfriend, and Beth caught them, and they hadn’t spoken since, but that wasn’t why she killed herself. It was because she was raped but never admitted it to anyone besides Brooke. Still, Brooke feels responsible for her death.
“We’re allowed one huge mess-up. I wish I would have saved mine for later on in life.”
That summer, before her senior year, Brooke had a choice. Move to California with her mom and new husband, or move one town over and attend the same high school that Beth went to. Seeking to avenge her friend’s rape and subsequent death, Brooke moves in with her dad and formulates a plan to get the same guy to try to rape her so she can expose him.
“There’s anger, and then there’s righteous anger. I felt righteous anger, and I knew I had to act on it. I would purify my heart by becoming impure.”
Cal is the popular leader of the Varsity swim team, and despite his good looks and outward charm, there is something smarmy about him and his friends. Brooke knows this is the guy who drugged and raped her friend, but can’t prove it. And she begins to see a pattern…more girls who seem to have been happy and popular one year, and turning into shells of themselves seemingly overnight. She knows something happened to them.
“I’m talking about the kind of indignity that changes you as a person, makes you withdraw, hide from the world because suddenly it’s turned into something frightening—full of dark corners and monsters.”
Then she overhears some of the swim team boys talking about their “game”. Like Fantasy Football, they have the Fantasy Slut League, acquiring points based on how far they get with what type of girl. And Brooke was Cal’s next target.
“I transformed into the predator. He just didn’t know it yet. He thought I was the prey, and I’d let him.”
Brooke is trying to pretend she is into Cal, but she is really into Ryan, the broody, gorgeous loner who she met at the funeral, and lives 6 houses down from her. Ryan has some secrets, but so does Brooke. But the two of them have a super strong pull, and develop a gradual friendship. Brooke is no virgin, and she wants Ryan. He wants her too, but doesn’t think she is ready, though he has no trouble giving her pleasure.
“I’m not looking for things to be even between us, Brooke. I’m looking for them to be right.”
Note: I felt like a complete dirty old lady here. These kids were 18, and the video-game scene was H-O-T. Ryan certainly knew just what to do, and was all about pleasing the lady. Plus, his sweet but bossy behavior was yummy. But damn, he was in high school!!!
The scenes between Brooke and Ryan were wonderful, and I wish the story had more of them. I also absolutely loved the relationship between Brooke and her dad. Plus, her friend Gretchen. So many light, fun and laughable moments were mingled in with an appallingly difficult storyline. I read this in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down….I had to know if the fuckers got caught.
- Such a deeply disturbing subject was an enjoyable, un-putdownable book, and was surprisingly light considering the subject.
- Brooke and her father’s relationship.
- Ryan. Damn, if Ryan were a few years older…..
- Brooke was no virgin.
- Despite being angry with Brooke for sleeping with her friend’s boyfriend in the beginning, you see her deep regret and need to make it right.
- The author wasn’t afraid to take the story where it needed to be taken.
- Editing was excellent.
- I would have liked a little more of the romance between Ryan and Brooke.
- The boys, even Finn all seem to be too good at what they are doing with women for high school boys, though Ryan’s desire to please is explained.
Rating: 4.5 Stars 3.75 heat
This is a book that sticks with you. It makes you want to grab your kids and protect them from the evil that is all around. It’s there. I see it as a substitute teacher and as a mom that is on her kid’s facebook. There are those kids…often the most popular, liked by the adults the most, that are just pure evil. Sneaky evil.
“Most bad guys were your normal, everyday guys moving through life like anyone else. Going to school. Going to work. Going to church, even. They were hard to spot, and that’s what made them so good at being bad. They were sneaky. They could get away with it, and they knew it.”
I hope the review didn’t scare you. This was a wonderful read, and I highly recommend it. This is not as angst filled as some other books, because the romance takes second to the main subject…rape. But it is engrossing, brutal, sweet, romantic, heartbreaking and addicting.
Purchase Going Under by S. Walden
~A Guest Post by S. Walden~
Why you’ll never see this in my disclaimers: “17+”
I’m just as much a market researcher as I am a writer. Sometimes I wear that hat much more often than I wear the writer’s hat. Why? Well, it’s simple: I want to be successful and sell books. Sure, writers want to write what they feel, what they know, what they believe in, but at the end of the day, a savvy writer is one who can do all those things mentioned above and make a buck on top of it. But this isn’t about what types of books are selling. This has to do with the way many writers qualify their work for mass consumption.
Disclaimers are necessities for writers, I suppose. I’m not committed one hundred percent to that notion. How they came about? I’ve no idea, but it may have something to do with the advent of Mature Young Adult and New Adult fiction subgenres. Suddenly authors felt the need to include disclaimers at the end of their book descriptions because their stories were controversial in nature. What do I mean by that? Well, too much language, violence, and sex. Some authors may be scared not to include disclaimers for fear of public backlash (or snarky, pious reviews). Some authors are parents and find it necessary to warn other parents about “bad” stuff in their novels to keep impressionable kiddies away. No harm in that. Just good business.
I’m no exception to the disclaimer rule. You’ll see the following in parentheses under my book descriptions: “This is a Mature YA novel that contains explicit language and sexual situations” or something of that nature. Why do I care about sharing that information with potential readers? Well, quite frankly, I don’t give a shit about warning anyone of the controversial content in my books (and I suspect that most readers don’t care), but I feel compelled to share so that no one is hit upside the head with it when they open my book. I throw my hands up. “Look, I gave you the warning, sister!”
In order to come to terms with the fact that I don’t feel like I should have to include a disclaimer for my books but know it’s essentially required, I created the “stuff in parentheses.” Stay with me. When are parentheses used? Think back to those horrendous grammar lessons in junior high. Parentheses are used to add information that is not pertinent but could be useful. In essence, anything inside of parentheses can be viewed as nonessential, additional information. So that’s where my disclaimers go. (“Hey, you might wanna know, but it won’t hurt you not to know.”)
And now moving on to the “17+” problem. I understand there is an age limit for rated R movies. I understand there is an age limit to purchase rated M video games. Kids are limited in those areas as to the type of content they can consume (unless Mommy and Daddy say it’s okay, or they sneak into the theatre, or they get fake IDs, or they purchase games on the internet, or . . . You get the picture.) When it comes to books, however, there is no age requirement for buying, well, anything. And I don’t have a problem with that. Why? First off, I would never give myself such airs as to think I know what’s appropriate material for certain age groups. “You’re fifteen? Oh, well then, you can read books that have light language in them. Words like ‘damn’ and ‘hell,’ but no ‘f’ word, missy. And you can forget about sex. Nope. Not even a little. In fact, I don’t know that I’m all that comfortable with you reading about French kissing. Why? Good grief! You’re fifteen! Now maybe if you were fifteen and a half . . .” Totally arbitrary. Second, I would never intentionally limit my fan base by including a 17+ recommendation. I want fans. Good grief. What writer doesn’t? And any one of them who says censorship should supersede an individual’s right to read is a hack. Third, I believe in parental rights—the right of parents to decide what is and is not appropriate for their children to read.
I think it’s mighty dangerous when authors qualify their work with disclaimers. Again, I don’t like them, but I feel I have no choice but to include them myself. And again, I think this is a relatively new phenomenon. Did Shakespeare put a disclaimer on his work? How about Flowers for Algernon which is a standard addition to many middle school English curriculums? That’s got sex and language in it. How about any piece of classic literature, for Pete’s sake? I don’t remember seeing a disclaimer on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and that book includes a rape scene!
My point? Fiction is an exercise in writing about the human condition. And you’d be hard pressed to find any book out there that doesn’t speak to controversial themes. (Well, unless it’s complete garbage.) Why? Humans are flawed. Humans are ugly. But humans also have redeemable qualities. So good realistic fiction is going to explore both the goodness and wickedness of human nature—all the things that make us laugh, cry, cringe, scream, and most importantly, think. Call me crazy, but I expect those elements when I pick up a book, and I don’t need a disclaimer to warn me about them.
(This is a very opinionated post on disclaimers. It contains language and sarcasm.)
Ryan closed Brooke’s front door softly and walked towards the street. He turned in the direction of his house, then changed his mind, walking the opposite way towards a community park. It was dusk, and he knew the park would be empty. He wanted, needed, the solitude to lash out.
He picked up speed, deciding it was wiser to run. He felt the tears welling and wanted to be safely hidden before they poured forth. He was out of breath when he made it to the playground, and crawled under a bridge that made up part of a play castle. And then he lost it, burying his face in his hands, crying shamelessly and angrily.
“Fuck!” he screamed into the purple air. The sun was nearly hidden, casting about the striking shades of a picture he had just painted with Brooke. He didn’t want to see the colors. They looked like her. They felt like her. They smelled like her. They screamed at him. Told him he was a charlatan, that he didn’t deserve her and never would.
He threw his head back, staring at the underside of the bridge and shouted, “What the fuck am I supposed to do?!”
“What am I supposed to tell her?!”
“God, please,” he pleaded, pounding the ground on either side of him.
He pulled his knees up to his chest and hung his head, crying as hard as he did the night he was fourteen years old and went home instead of to the police station. He cried for Lucy and Brooke and all the other girls who were victims because he was a coward. He didn’t know how to make it right. He didn’t know how to face Brooke tomorrow.
He held it together tonight while she detailed her attack. He wanted to be strong for her. It was nearly impossible when all he wanted was to break down just like her, cry and scream his anger just as she’d done. But he knew he couldn’t. It wouldn’t be right. Wouldn’t be fair. She needed someone strong, someone to cry on, and so he would be strong for her.
He closed his eyes, seeing Brooke’s face change to Lucy’s. Seeing Lucy’s face change to some girl he didn’t know. And her face change to another girl he didn’t know. They lined themselves up in his brain, standing there staring at him, waiting patiently for him to make the decision. To do the right thing. It would take him a week, but he would go. He would find the strength to go.
“Hi?” Lucy said, confused.
“I know who you are,” she said, her mouth turning up in a sad smile. “You’re dating Brooke.”
He nodded. “May I come in?”
“Uh, sure,” Lucy replied. She moved aside to allow him in, watching him suspiciously as he walked into the living room. “How’s Brooke?”
“Scared. Angry.” Ryan stood in the middle of the room unsure of what to do.
Lucy nodded and made her way to the couch, inviting him to join her. They sat in an awkward silence for a few moments while Ryan tried to formulate his thoughts, his reason for visiting.
“I just . . . I just want you to beat the shit out of me, okay?”
Lucy looked up. “Huh?”
“For what I’m about to tell you. Just hit me as hard as you want.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
Ryan was quiet, rubbing his face. Lucy grew frightened immediately.
“Did something else happen to Brooke?”
Ryan looked at her confused. “Huh? What? No no. She’s okay. I mean, she’s still shaken, but she’s okay. I mean she’s safe. She’s not okay. She’s safe.”
“Then what was that comment all about?” Lucy asked. She felt the inevitable tears, the ones she’d been crying all week for Brooke.
“Lucy . . .” Ryan’s voice trailed off.
“Tell me why are want me to beat the shit out of you!” Lucy demanded.
“I was there that night. I saw you. On that bed. I tried to stop it. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I thought I was going to a drinking party. That’s what they told me. I tried to stop them, Lucy, but I couldn’t.” And then the tears poured forth anew, running unabashedly down his cheeks. He didn’t wipe them away. He wanted her to see them, to believe them, because they were true.
Lucy sat stunned, staring at him.
“I didn’t know about that sex league, Lucy. I wasn’t part of it. I don’t know if they brought me to that motel room to initiate me or something, but I freaked out. I fought them, but they beat the shit out of me.” He looked up at her, a wild expression on his face. “Hit me, Lucy.”
“I want you to! Please, just beat the shit out of me!”
Lucy thought he’d gone crazy. She hopped up from the couch and backed away.
“That’s it. I’m a monster. But don’t back away from me. Hit me instead. Don’t be afraid,” he said, standing up.
Lucy took another step back.
“Stop backing away from me!” he shouted. “Fucking stand up for yourself!”
Something snapped in her brain at the sound of those words: “Stand up for yourself.” And then she came at him, her fists flailing. She pounded his chest, slapped his face repeatedly, punched his stomach until he doubled over.
“Why?!” she screamed, smacking the side of his head as he stood, bent over, not resisting or trying to protect himself. “Why did you let them do that to me?!”
She pounded his body. She wouldn’t let up. Her tears seemed to fuel her rage, and she struck him with all the strength her 100-pound body could muster.
“They were too strong,” Ryan gasped, feeling her tiny fists all over him.
And then her fists were gone. Just like that. He turned his face to look at her, unsure if it was safe or possible to stand up again.
“Did you try?”
“I tried,” he replied. “I got a few swings in before I blacked out.”
“They beat me unconscious,” he replied, standing up.
Lucy’s mouth dropped open.
“It’s no excuse, Lucy. But when I came to, they told me they’d kill me if I talked. I was scared. Young and scared. But it’s no excuse.”
They stared at one another for a while. Ryan was determined to hold her gaze, knowing this was part of the punishment he deserved—staring at the victim he couldn’t help. He felt the same weakness now as he did that night in the motel room.
“I’m sorry they did that to you,” Lucy said, and then she walked towards him and wrapped her arms around his sore waist.
He stood frozen, unable to comprehend the turn of events. She should be crying and screaming at him, not hugging him. He didn’t know where to put his arms. He wanted to engulf her in them, allow himself the allusion of protecting her, but he was afraid.
“It’s okay,” she whispered into his chest, and then he wrapped his arms around her, holding her hard to him—perhaps too hard—but she didn’t resist. She just cried. And he cried.
Hours later Lucy had learned everything. Everything Ryan could remember. They sat on the couch while he detailed his depression, the strained relationship that developed between himself and his parents, and his loneliness at school.
“Well, if I would have known you were so lonely, I would have talked to you. We could have been lonely together,” Lucy offered. She grinned and chuckled. Ryan stared at his lap. “Ryan?”
“It was supposed to be funny.”
“I heard the rumors Cal started about you,” Ryan said.
“Yeah? I heard the shit he said about you, too.”
“I should have talked to you.”
“Me too. Nobody should ever feel alone in high school.”
“We can be friends now,” Lucy suggested, and he smiled.
“I want to go to the police. I want to tell them what I saw.”
“But Ryan, you really didn’t see anything,” Lucy said.
“It doesn’t matter. I know what happened to you. I know what they were planning to do to you. And I want to tell the police.”
Lucy sat silent for a moment. Ryan fidgeted with his fingers.
“They’ll want me to give a statement,” she said.
“Lucy, you just beat the hell out of me. Are you really afraid anymore?” Ryan asked. He looked at her and smiled. She grinned.
“Well, perhaps not. But you didn’t see much that night. I don’t remember anything, really. What are the chances those boys will be found guilty for anything?”
“It doesn’t matter. It happened to you. And that’s what we say. Because it’s the truth.”
Lucy nodded. She thought better than to bring it up, but she couldn’t keep the secret any longer. “Ryan?”
“Did Brooke ever tell you why she was hanging out with Cal?”
Ryan tensed. “No.”
Lucy shifted in her seat. “Cal raped Beth. Her best friend. Did she ever tell you about Beth?”
Ryan looked shocked. “I went to Beth’s funeral, and yes, I knew she was Brooke’s best friend, but I never knew why she committed suicide.”
Lucy took a deep breath. “I have no business telling you this, but I think you should know. And I’m not telling you this to make you feel worse than you already do, but Brooke’s your girlfriend and she should have been honest with you. Honest with someone about her fucked-up plan.”
“What are you talking about?” Ryan felt the warning flutters in his heart. For a split second he thought he didn’t want to learn what Lucy insisted on telling him.
“Brooke cheated with Beth’s boyfriend. She carried around a lot of guilt over it, especially after Beth took her life. She thought the only way to find forgiveness was to set herself up as a rape victim in order to get Cal behind bars. It was crazy and stupid, and she eventually abandoned the plan. I think you had a lot to do with that.”
Ryan stared off into the corner of the room. He couldn’t process the things Lucy was saying.
“It’s like she finally came to her senses. But then—” Lucy took a deep breath. She didn’t want to cry anymore, but she couldn’t stop herself. “—Why did she take that drink?!”
“I don’t know.”
“How can someone be savvy and stupid at the same time?!”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m so angry at her, and it’s not her fault. But I’m angry, Ryan!”
“I hate those boys!” Lucy cried. “I want to kill them. I’ve never felt it before—the urge to kill someone. But I want to. If they were here, I’d kill them with these hands!” She turned her palms up and showed Ryan. He took her hands in his.
“I’d rather you not go to prison, too,” he said, trying for lightness. It worked, and she smiled. “But we can make them pay. We can go to the police. Tell them the truth.”
“I want you to go. I do,” Lucy said. “But will you just give me some time?”
“Yes.” Ryan squeezed her hands and let go.
“Should I not have said anything about Brooke’s secrets? It really wasn’t mine to tell.”
“I think you were trying to do the right thing.”
“Are you angry that she didn’t talk with you about Beth?”
“No. I can’t be angry with her for keeping secrets when I did the same.”
Ryan didn’t voice it aloud, but for the first time he felt like he didn’t know Brooke at all. And he knew that once he admitted his secret to her, he’d never get the chance.