Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
I am really ambivalent about Some Boys, y’all. (Pun intended!) I can see why this has garnered split opinions when it comes to reviews. Some people love it, some people hate it, and others, like me, are finding things both to love and to hate about the book. Patty Blount’s story of what happens after a young woman accuses one of her peers of rape is a roller coaster of emotions and a stinging indictment of how adults in positions of authority reinforce rape culture. At the same time, so much of this book, stylistically, did not work for me.
Trigger warning in this book, obviously, for discussions of sexual assault, slut-shaming/victim-blaming. The actual scene is not depicted graphically, but there’s mentions there, and Grace experiences some fairly intense panic attacks from the various micro- and not-so-micro-aggressions she endures.
Grace Collier is a social pariah after accusing her school’s lacrosse team captain, Zac, of rape. No one—not her friends, not the police, not her teachers—seems to put much credence to this claim. Even her divorced parents, while trying to be supportive, seem to be more intent on helping Grace “get through” the difficult aftermath of the assault rather than supporting her desire for justice. The girls she once thought of as friends now hurl epithets at her. And Grace constantly suffers from panic attacks. She is focused on finding a way to prove what Zac did to her. Then she is paired up, against her will, with Zac’s friend Ian to clean lockers over spring break. At first they want nothing to do with each other, but slowly they begin to bond, and there appears to be some kind of attraction between them. It’s not a smooth road, though, because Ian is torn between his loyalty to Zac and his growing belief that Grace is telling the truth.
This is where I kind of want to vomit. Actually, the tagline on the cover of the book—“Some boys go too far. Some boys will break your heart. But one boy can mend it.”—is what makes me want to vomit. But before I get into that, let’s examine some of the things I like about Some Boys.
Blount pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the ways rape culture enable and excuse the actions of rapists while blaming and marginalizing victims. Grace does everything right: her parents call the cops; she submits to the invasive physical tests that are required to collect evidence; she submits to the interrogation at the hands of police that requires her to relive her rape, to certify that she was not somehow “asking for it”, etc.; and, finally, when justice unsurprisingly does not happen, she keeps her head high and even returns to school. She is undefeated (and she does not need a boy to “mend” her … but more on that later, I swear). Despite doing everything right, Grace runs into the one problem that the rest of the world still thinks she did one thing wrong—namely, that she ended up in this situation in the first place.
The more overt attacks on Grace, such as Lindsay and Miranda constantly calling her a slut, keying her car or stealing the battery, and even physically attacking her, are brutal but less interesting to me than the ways in which other people, particularly authority figures, betray Grace. The teachers nominally act supportive and pretend to have zero tolerance for this shit, but they hide behind facades of “not taking sides” or, in the case of Coach Brill, soon discover they have little recourse beyond the limited power their position grants them. I think Blount demonstrates an important fact here occasionally overlooked in these discussions: sometimes, it’s difficult for people in positions of authority to actually exercise that authority in a helpful way. Brill wants to root out and punish the person who yelled “slut”, for example, but since he doesn’t know who did it, he has to rely on a team member to self-identify, regardless of their actual guilt. Hence, although it is important that adults and authority figures take more proactive measures to fight rape culture, real change has to happen through education and breaking down the toxic gender roles that create these situations in the first place.
Similarly, Grace’s parents are interesting. Grace’s mom seems to be trying so hard to help Grace. She answers Grace’s phone calls no matter what time it is, always offers support through Grace’s panic attacks, seems to be there for Grace. These are all laudable behaviours. Yet Grace’s mom, perhaps because she feels powerless to actually help, seems to just want Grace to “move on” and put this incident behind her. The same goes for Grace’s dad, who likewise can’t actually do much to change the situation and therefore channels his frustrations into other avenues, like criticizing the way Grace dresses.
So Some Boys has some interesting moments in the way it depicts rape culture. Why am I ambivalent?
Basically, Ian. And the idea that he is the panacea to Grace’s trauma.
To be clear, I’m not begrudging Grace her romance. Rape victims deserve romances and happy-ever-afterish endings as much as the next protagonist in a book, sure. My issue is with how Grace’s turning point is associated with the moment Ian says he believes her. Grace already had two women her age tell her they believe her, by the way, but no, Grace needs some dumb boy to believe her before she can get her mojo back. Apparently he has to swoop in, lift the video off Zac’s phone that might provide incriminating evidence, and be a hero for Grace. And then it’s all better?
I am over-simplifying, yes, and I know that Grace isn’t “all better” even given the positive ending of this book. But I’m just so disappointed that, after spending so much time establishing Grace as this independently-minded person, Blount has a boy “mend” her heart. It’s such a banal, clichéd ending that undermines the whole point of Grace’s journey!
And Ian is such a buffoon. Like, I get Blount wants to portray the perspective of an allocishet teenage boy and why, growing up in the culture he has, he is confused on issues of consent, etc. But seriously, Ian’s critical reasoning faculties could use an upgrade, because he’s about three sentences short of cavemen grunts of “ugh, girls pretty, me like pretty girls, why pretty girls no want sex times?” Yes, teenage boys can be horny, and yes, teenage boys can be mean shits to girls in an attempt to sleep with them. That is all true, and I actually like Zac’s characterization for that. Ian, on the other hand, just seems like he has trouble holding two ideas in his head for more than a few moments. I think Blount is trying to depict his personal journey of dismantling his incorrect ideas about consent, the way girls should dress, etc., and recognizing his own complicity. Unfortunately, this is done in a clumsy and heavy-handed way.
Even if it weren’t, I just can’t get behind the whole Grace/Ian dynamic. Your job as an ally or supportive friend is not to “fix” or fucking “mend” a person or that person’s heart after they have been raped. That literally isn’t a thing. Be there for them, be angry for them, fight for them, sure—but it is not on you to “fix” them. And this just really gets me because I know that this is not what Blount is trying to say. The last sentence of this novel is literally, “I didn’t break.” I think she’s trying to show us that Grace stayed strong throughout, and that Ian’s help is just this additional push that Grace needed to get to the place where she ends up. Alas, that’s not how it comes off to me.
Anyway, I’m still really ambivalent about Some Boys. If that seems odd considering the vitriolic criticism I just levelled, it’s only because I’m having trouble gauging how fair I’m being. I can’t help but think of other books I’ve read about rape culture that are just so much better—in my opinion, not just in their characterization and story but in the style of writing too. Maybe my issues are more with how this book tells Grace’s story, not what her story is, and people who like Blount’s style might not be as critical as I am. But if you want to read better tales about rape culture, check out Asking For It or All the Rage. The former, I’ll warn you, has more of a downer ending than Some Boys. The latter also has a romantic-type subplot similar to what happens between Grace and Ian here, but it’s much better executed—Leon is not there to “mend” Romy’s heart.
Some Boys aims high and makes a serious effort about a subject that needs more stories, so in that respect, I want to give it credit. I think that there are probably readers out there who will adore this book’s treatment of the subject. Certainly I’m not speaking from personal experience when I talk about the portrayal of these issues, and I don’t want to erase or invalidate the feelings of people for whom Grace or Ian’s stories resonated. Nevertheless, there is a lot about this book that just does not work for me.