All The Rage by Courtney Summers
Release Date: April 14th, 2015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Will contain spoilers.
“I leave her there and find a shower stall for myself where I run the water hot as the sun. It stings my skin. I imagine it eroding lines into me, all over my pale body, my arms, my legs, and especially my face until I look like one of those women. The kind no one fucks with.”
This story isn’t about the sheriff’s son Kellan Turner who took something he thought he had a right to, because no one ever taught him otherwise. This story is about Romy Grey, a victim of sexual assault and the damage that ensues when no one believes her claims. Because the golden child isn’t capable of something as heinous as he’s been accused. Left in silence and abandoned by her friends, family, and community who have branded her as a liar and a slut, Romy lives with her truth—she survives. Her only comfort is the anonymity she gains while working at a diner outside of town. There, she can blend in, she can disappear.
When a girl Romy used to call her best friend vanishes, and news of Kellan having previously assaulted yet another girl, Romy must decide to stay the course or speak the truth to save further girls from being hurt. With no one in her corner, Romy’s pleas and pain went unheard, but now her silence has left others vulnerable and Romy realizes it may be time to speak up.
I have a lot to say about this book. So forgive me if I jump ideas.
There are books where you can tell by the brief synopsis that they will remain with you forever because the content is just too relevant—too personal. Romy’s narrative is like so many other girls and women who have had to endure the pain, humiliation, and degradation of an assault as well as the aftermath of those events. No one believed Romy and so her voice was silenced by an entire community because no one could believe that their golden ‘boy’ was capable of assault. The community backed a ‘boy’ because his future had been compromised by the accusation, but no one even thought to acknowledge the damage he had caused to Romy, because her story wasn’t important—to them her story didn’t exist.
Romy’s assault wasn’t believed, not only because of who she accused, but because of the amount she had to drink. She willingly drank an excessive amount, and therefore, was held accountable for her own rape in the eyes of her community. Alcohol can make people do stupid things that they ultimately will regret, but it takes something dark and ugly deep inside that allows someone to completely violate a woman, and believe that it’s all fun and games. That she wanted it. What Romy needed and what she received were two completely different things. She needed someone to look after her, to take her home before she got sick. She needed a human being with enough morals and values to realize the state that she had been in. She needed someone who cared. What she got, however, was a boy who believed that the hole between her legs was a vulnerability. That it was his right to use it and abuse it as he saw fit. What he did not remember or even care to imagine is that he came from the exact place that he had violated. Strength brought him into the world through a place for which he believed was a sign of weakness.
Reading Romy’s assault was heart wrenching. She was moving in and out of consciousness and her rapist continuously bated her to look at him, look into his eyes as he broke into her body. Kellen took something from Romy during that assault. He took her ability to trust men. He stole her ability to feel safe in her own skin. He violated any idea that people would believe anything she had to say for the rest of her life.
The worst thing about the aftermath of the attack was that the community blamed her for her own assault. They shamed her for the filthy things that were done to her body without permission. They hated her for ruining the life of a promising boy that had such a bright future.
Romy was the victim and yet everyone was trying to make her into the monster.
Romy was broken by this assault. She emanated pain, yet had the control and the strength to enter her school each day where she was bombarded with snide remarks and severe bullying. She had done everything she could to make the police believe her. But how are you supposed to express to complete strangers what it feels like to have someone push themselves inside of you and call it justified? Kellen wasn’t sorry for what he did to her. He didn’t respect her. He didn’t feel like he needed to. He was righteous, she was intoxicated, he was entitled. He felt entitled to her body, as if she owed him something, as if she were paying some invisible debt he had assumed the payment of.
There was one chapter in particular which was actually more painful to read in my opinion. Romy had an encounter with her old best friend where she finds out that another girl admitted to being assaulted by Kellan. The realization that she wasn’t his only victim hits her hard and she ends up at her school’s lake party, a legacy event that has happened for decades. There, Romy is drugged and left on the side of the road with her shirt open and the words ‘RAPE ME’ written in Romy’s signature red lipstick on her abdomen. This was a violation in itself and it was disgusting and extraordinarily painful to read knowing what she had already gone through. I felt disgusted after that, like I too, needed a hot shower to burn away the remnants of the chapter.
I read in another review that someone was bothered by how Romy would push people away and wouldn’t disclose why she was the way she was. I would say to them: How would you like her to act? She was a child, broken by disbelief and invaded by a monster. She survived the best way she could, keeping people at a safe distance. I’ve never been the victim of an assault, but I have to imagine that I too would pull away from others. Because from that moment forward everyone else in the world would become a potential threat and the only safety would be found with myself.
The most poignant thing about this book is that everything that happened could have been prevented. Had the men in the story been taught that they had no right to a woman’s body without her consent, perhaps it could have been different. Had they been taught that ‘no’ was a command, not a suggestion, maybe no one would have been hurt. Had they not been fed this idea that they were entitled, potentially there could be fewer victims.
Romy is and always will be a testament to women of this generation who have had to endure uncomfortable moments with men, unwanted advances, unwarranted attention, violence, and assaults. She is a small beacon of hope that maybe the generation who reads this will work to change the injustices that victims face. Romy’s story is a reflection of our time. That even in this day and age, women are still bombarded with what they did to facilitate their own assaults.
I had one consistent thought throughout the entire book, and that was to protect Romy. Every time she got into an uncomfortable position I felt the need to pull her away and shield her from the world. I needed to protect her the way no one else had. I wanted to help her. I wanted to save her. She didn’t deserve what happened to her, and in reading her story, I had started to feel as if I had been violated. As if the assaults that befell Romy had also fallen on me. I was the girl ridiculed in the locker room. I was the girl who had idle threats made about my safety. I was the girl who was left on the side of a dirt road with ‘RAPE ME’ written across my stomach. I was the girl who was raped by a boy who believed he was entitled to my body. I am Romy, just like every reader who goes through this novel becomes Romy. I was Romy’s age once and I also had a crush on a boy, but that boy didn’t take from me what Kellan took from Romy.
This book is uncomfortable, heartbreaking, and extremely important. This is what happens when people turn their backs on victims. We can’t allow it to continue. There should be no more questions of: What did they drink and how much? What were they wearing? Did they lead them on? Did they say no? These questions are meaningless because they don’t matter. What does matter is consent. As a woman, I stand with other victims. Victims with a specific gender and victims who don’t live by the binaries society places on them. They need a voice when theirs has been silenced. I am Romy’s voice, just like countless other readers will become her voice. Her story may be fictional, but it’s all too familiar to some. Her consent was revoked and now it’s time to give it back.
If Romy had given her consent, she wouldn’t be a victim. If Kellan had been taught he wasn’t entitled to Romy’s body, maybe he wouldn’t be a rapist.
If you take away anything from this book it’s that there are different levels of priority to assault. When you report a break in, no one asks if you wanted to be robbed. Change the stigma on rape. Become a voice for those who have become silenced. Remember Romy and what she went through. Teach EVERYONE not to rape and that consent is a yes or no deal, there are no blurred lines.