All The Rage by Courtney Summers (@courtney_s)

I finished reading All the Rage a few weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about how to review it since I flipped the last page. Summers’ books always give me all the feels, but when I was done this one, I wasn’t 100% sure what I thought. It wasn’t that I disliked it. Not at all. I knew I liked it quite a bit. I knew I would be buying a copy to go on my shelf. But I couldn’t put my finger on how the book made me feel. So I’ve been thinking about it, and the more I do, the more I think I understand why. It’s because no one in the book really knows what they feel either. Every character is so buried under layers of self-preservation that they’ve lost sight of what drives them.

That and the fact that the book blurb sets up the wrong expectations for the reader. It sets you up for a girl who wants to talk. A girl like Regina or Parker (Some Girls Are/Cracked Up to Be). Girls who do not give two shits what anyone else thinks. Who are in your face assholes (and I mean this in the best way, I love both of these characters). You expect Romy to have that kind of conviction. Even if she isn’t going to say anything about the rape, you know she’s going to be raging on the inside. We’ve got rage in the title. But that’s not Romy. That’s not what this is about. It’s not that kind of rage. This is All the Rage in the bandwagon sense. The blurb also sets us up to believe that Kellen has a pretty big role in this novel. But I don’t think he appears even once. And if he does, it’s so brief I can’t exactly remember it. What we should have been prepared for is what happens when you fuck with someone’s family. What we should have been prepared for is what happens when no one believes you – even when you’re telling the truth. What we should have been prepared for is being drowned in our own self-loathing.

The setting of the novel is crucial for the action in the novel. Crucial. This small little town lost in the middle of nowhere. Full of its long time families. The crucial few who drive every relationship. Disapproval from the wrong mom or dad can put a family on the outs with the entire town. Sounds outrageous, right? You’ve obviously never lived in one of these places. Honestly, the physical setting for this novel hit so close to home I had to remind myself it wasn’t about a place I lived. I’m not talking about the people in the town (entirely), but about the physicality. This tiny place with a slightly larger town – but still small enough that no one from an actual city would ever refer to it as one – just far enough away to be a refuge of anonymity, but close enough that you can drive there on lunch break and only miss the first period of the afternoon. All this land in between that’s scoped out and set up for parties. Lake parties. Bush parties. Dirt road parties. Where ever you can get away with it. The massive parties completely condoned by parents. The passing down of stories from when they were younger. The ingrained nepotism of authority figures.

That’s what this novel is all about. Yes. It’s about a rape. I’m not diminishing that. It’s the act that drives everything to this point, but without the setting, this story couldn’t exist. For people who criticize Romy’s lack of action, maybe this is what you didn’t connect with. This deafening silence under the weight of generations of structure. So, why not do anything about it, you might be asking. Why not be the one who breaks it? You can try. In fiction, that’s typically what happens. But in reality, it usually does nothing. Or makes it so, so much worse. Romy tried. She tried to report what was done to her. And look what happened. She’s mocked and ridiculed by everyone. Her family is forced even further down the social ladder. Her accusation doesn’t just impact her. It makes things worse for her mother. It doesn’t help that her rapist is the son of the local cop. The roles of the townspeople are so ingrained that they’re not even surprised when he comes to their house and sits down at the kitchen table to tell her why she’s wrong and why she’s not making this accusation. It’s rape culture at its worst. You liked him. You said so. You said you wanted to hook up with him. You got yourself drunk. He’s a nice boy. You’re a trashy girl with an alcoholic father. All of this was your fault. Claiming rape is all the rage for girls like you. Girls who just want attention. I’m more important than you. I say it’s your fault, so it is. End of story.

So Romy does the only thing she can think to do, she puts on another coat of armour. She tamps down her feelings. She suffocated every instinct to fight for herself. And she does it with nail polish and lipstick. Bright red and always perfect. Always 100% perfect. It may seem like a strange habit, but it’s what we do. Ritual is distraction. The same thing in the face of the same action gets us through. It keeps us from curling up against the things that destroy us. If Romy spends enough time in her rituals, she won’t have to think about the things that happened to her. The things that made everything terrible. If she puts on her lipstick just right. If she cleans her nails perfectly. If she polishes them to a gleaming shellac. If she does everything right, then the rest won’t matter. They won’t see her. And the more and more she begins to rely on it the better and worse it works. She can count on it. It’s always there. But everyone else can see it too. And they can use it against her. Is this the message hidden in the book? Warning us that squashing things doesn’t solve them. That you have to protect yourself first? Maybe.

Romy does try, a little. She gets a job out of town. At a place where no one she knows comes to eat. A place where she isn’t “Romy, the girl who cried rape’. She’s just Romy. She meets new people. She begins to date a new boy. She believes things are getting better. But then Penny shows up and tells her they’ve always known she was there. That she isn’t even worthy enough for them to bother. And everything goes to hell – again. Should Romy be dating already? Is she recovered enough from the rape? For the second question – hell no. But for the first? The answer is probably also no. She thinks he is helping her be someone new. And he is, a bit, as much as he can having no idea what she’d been through. What’s actually happening is he is becoming a new layer. Another thing she can hide behind. He doesn’t know her past. He doesn’t know her life. He only knows her now. Her in this exact moment. She can’t have any of it mixing. When he shows up at the search party, she is so desperate to keep these two things separate that she accuses him of harassing her to get him to go away. She drives him away and pulls him back and drive him away again. She wants him, but only if he isn’t part of the things that make her terrible. He can only be part of the good, and that is never realistic.

Romy is a sad character. Not depressing. Sad. There is a difference. Because you want so much for her to just stand up and scream at the top of her lungs that this boy did this thing to her and his parents have made it go away. You want someone to listen to her. Someone to believe her. But when people finally start listening, there’s always something that makes her even sadder. When Penny starts to listen, it’s because she’s heard that Kellan’s done this to other girls. Someone else notices when Romy offhandedly says that if Penny was raped by her abductor she’d be better off dead. Romy is so beaten down by her silence she believes that this truth. Believes it so deeply, that she doesn’t even think about it before she says it. She just knows it. When Romy finds a police officer that might actually be willing to help her, we think maybe, maybe this is the person who turns everything around. But no. It’s just more false hope. Romy is sad, guys. She’s just so sad. And her sadness has eaten away at her being.

I think that’s why I had a hard time getting to what I really thought about this novel. The terrible people are awful and get rewarded. But it’s because they try. They make themselves heard. They silence the others. The ones who want to be good. Now, I need to take a minute and clarify. The terrible people – I don’t know if they mean to be terrible. I think they’re just used to getting what they want. They’re used to people doing what they say. They’ve been bred into these attitudes. It is ingrained. And who doesn’t get their back up when someone challenges their family. It’s that whole, I can be mean to my siblings if I want to be, but you’d better shut your mouth. Unless, they’ve actually done something really terrible. And that’s where this town falls apart. No one wants to scratch the surface. No one wants chipped nail polish. Image is king. Romy and her family have no image. They are the lowest of the low. They are what every other family measures themselves against. The barometer of the bottom. It is better than they suffer than anyone have to confront what is really going on. This is the worst of human nature. It’s not serial killer, psychopath type of worst. This may even be something worse, because it’s normal. It’s every day. It’s everything. Making ourselves feel better at the expense of others. Promoting shame and hatred and self-loathing, just for some good feelings. It’s a terrible part of social living.

Things start to change for Romy towards the end of the novel, but it’s at the expense of a girl’s life. People finally start to listen when someone important dies. But by now we know these people. We know this is short lived. It will get struck down. Something will be found to make the boy that did it less than. Or worse, the girl who died. So yes, this is a book about rape. A book about the fall out of rape. Rape is the action. But it is the way we react to things that makes them what they are. Had anyone, anyone, listened to Romy when she was raped, maybe none of the events that followed would have happened. Maybe, if people were less concerned with their own image and more concerned with the wellbeing of everyone, none of this would have happened. Maybe if we tried to break our conditioning to hide things we see as making us unworthy… maybe, maybe, maybe. All the Rage makes you look at yourself. Your habits. Your rituals. Your life. It’s not about anger, it’s about the danger of habit. It’s a powerful book.

*off topic note – I loved the way Romy takes off her nail polish. I tried it. It is now the only way I remove my polish. I cannot believe I ever did it any other way. Why has no one pinterested this?

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