***Spoiler and Soapbox Alert.***
This review definitely contains spoilers, and I’m climbing up onto a soapbox in order to deliver it. There, you’ve been warned.
I don’t usually review many books on my blog or on goodreads. I don’t normally care to spend the time, especially when it seems like I’m not the best at writing reviews, and there are plenty of other people out there who are really good at writing reviews. Sometimes, though, I just feel like I have to write a review.
I’ve loved most of Joshilyn Jackson’s books. She writes the south well, without relying on stereotypes, and she normally writes strong, flawed, just plain real female characters. So of course I put her latest novel, Someone Else’s Love Story, on my Christmas wish list, and dropped a few not so subtle hints to Nick that it was one of the things I really, really wanted. He picked up on my hints and I found it waiting for me under the tree on Christmas.
The book is terrible. I gave it one star on goodreads, which means “I didn’t like it.” I have two major issues with this book: It crams religion down your throat, and it excuses rape.
The book harps, incessantly, on a virgin birth, the resurrection, and various other religious tenets. I’m not saying that a book can’t have some religion. Characters need to care about something, and they need to stand for something. Sometimes that something is a religious belief. I get it, and I’m fine with that.
I’m not fine with a book that’s dressed up as fiction trying to cram a certain belief and value system down its readers’ throats. It’s fiction, it’s meant to entertain, not to convert. If you want to explain the beauty, absolute rightness, or perfection of a certain belief or value system, then write a non-fiction book on that subject. Don’t use your status as a best selling author to get people to unsuspectingly buy “fiction” with a motive like that. It just comes across to me as cheating.
My biggest issue with this book, however, the one that honestly made me feel somehow dirty for having read it, is the way it addresses rape. The main character, Shandi Pierce, conceived her son when she was raped at a college frat party. She was drugged and didn’t remember much from the night it happened, and chooses not to come to terms with any of it until her son is three years old.
The book harps, incessantly, on the fact that Shandi was still technically a virgin, even after the birth of her son because her hymen was still intact, and her rapist was apparently a premature ejaculator who “didn’t get it in all the way”. I am no medical expert, so I have no idea if that is even medically possible. The constant harping on her being technically a virgin, even after giving birth, was just disturbing.
Shandi spends the first three years after her son’s birth being pretty much a-okay with the fact that she was raped. She loves her son, and after all, she’s still technically a virgin. All’s well that ends well, apparently.
She never contacts law enforcement, and very, very few people know the circumstances surrounding her son’s conception. That part doesn’t bother me. Rape is extremely under reported. I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to go with the fact that a 17 year old girl who is drugged and raped at a party wouldn’t go to the police.
What bothers me so much is that she was mostly okay with having been raped for over three years after the fact. All because she loved her son and her hymen was intact. I applaud her for loving a child who was conceived so horribly, but that doesn’t make the act that caused him to be conceived okay at all.
When Shandi finally decides that she does want to know who raped her, and tries to fill in the details of the night it happened, she enlists the help of an emotionally stunted geneticist, and together they determine the identity of her son’s father – her rapist.
They never contact law enforcement. On one hand, I understand the rationale. It has been years, it’s basically her word against his, and she doesn’t want her son to find out that he’s the product of a rape. I don’t necessarily agree with that decision, but it seems like a decision that could be seen as good by someone in that position.
It’s what follows that I think is beyond upsetting.
Shandi meets and talks to her rapist and his fiancé. His story, which she decides to believe, is that they were both at a frat party, and he had (sort of against his will) had beer funneled into him, so got really drunk, really fast. He didn’t give her the date rape drug. He found her talking with three other guys, who most likely had given her the drug, as they were getting ready to take her upstairs (presumably for a long evening of gang rape). She grabs and kisses him (she decides during his version of events that it’s because he looks like her best friend who she is secretly in love with), and the two split off from the group. Apparently Shandi takes off her underwear at some point, and even though she can barely walk and isn’t forming coherent sentences, the rapist decides this means she wants sex.
They go outside and she passes out, and he rapes her (though apparently it doesn’t really count, because even though she gets pregnant, her hymen is still intact). She wakes up, sick and confused, and calls her best friend to come pick her up. Then she proceeds to live the next three plus years basically denying the fact that she was raped.
When Shandi and her rapist (and his fiancé) piece together the events of the night, she basically decides that the rapist isn’t a bad guy, and isn’t really exactly a rapist. After all (according to his story) he most likely “saved” her from gang rape, he didn’t give her the drug, he was drunk, and he was really socially awkward, possibly autistic, so it wasn’t really his fault. In fact, he’s practically a victim too.
That’s when I started to see red. He didn’t “save” her from the three guys. He just raped her himself instead. He basically beat them to it. If he had saved her, he would have removed her from the situation, possibly contacted law enforcement, or a responsible adult, or at least tried to leave her in a safe place. He didn’t do any of that. He took a girl who couldn’t form a coherent sentence and could barely walk, outside and raped her. That’s not saving her. It’s just sick and disturbed that there’s any suggestion that one kind of rape is somehow “better” than another and saves the victim from a worse one.
It doesn’t matter that he didn’t give her the drug. He still took advantage of what the drug did to her. Under that logic it would be alright for medical professionals to rape patients in comas – they didn’t put them in the coma after all. Using someone’s physical or mental incapacitation for non-consensual sex is just wrong. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t cause the incapacitation; you still don’t have the right to take advantage of someone in that state.
Being socially awkward, or even autistic, is not an excuse for rape. I don’t see that as being much different than saying someone asked for it. You’re excusing rape by saying the rapist couldn’t help it, much the way that society often blames women in saying that they asked for it by their dress or behavior. “Well, she dressed that way so he couldn’t help himself” doesn’t seem much different to me than “Well, he’s socially awkward, so he couldn’t help himself”. That’s not an excuse.
I just can’t like a book that paints rape as an okay or blameless thing. It isn’t, and there’s no way to dress it up and make it okay. I also think it’s really upsetting how many women have given this book gushing reviews. I think there’d be an outcry for tarring and feathering if a man had written this book.
So what about you? Have you read the book? If so, what did you think? Does rape being portrayed as anything other than horrible upset you? Want to climb up on your own soapbox?