Review – Anjana Basu
Is not an excuse
Penguin Random House
Toxic masculinity they call it in America, a kind of tradition that persists through the echelons of male dominated educational institutions and beyond. Something that Indians would recognise since much of the behaviour towards girls and women is similar, leading to what characterises the ‘rape culture’ that is so rampant. In fact the two go hand in hand – where men are toxic, rape follows.
Kiely targets young adults with this hard-hitting book, setting his story in the select co-ed Fullbrook Academy, he pits a newbie scholarship student, James Baxter against the system. James is determined not to rock the boat having been involved in something violent in his previous school. He encounters the feisty Jules Devereux who is in your face about the things she dislikes, even scattering leaflets about sexual health at an orientation ceremony for new students.
Kiely signals danger with his opening chapter and the girls in pencil skirts with stilettos. Whatever is happening is very much on the surface
Both of them realise that they are survivors and against the system. James and Jules form an unlikely partnership against the sexist ritual that forms part of Fullbrook’s traditional initiation ceremony. In India, it would be filed under ‘ragging’ which is fast becoming a punishable offence. In America they call it ‘hazing’ and many things happen that scrape the borderline of assault and sometimes cross boundaries. What is very familiar is the fact that the powers that matter at Fullbrook are aware of what is happening but prefer to look the other way – there are institutions where these things are rife but remain discreetly ignored.
Much of the book circles around a girl’s right to say no. Kiely provides scenes that show this in its positive and negative aspects – what happens when the no is accepted and in turn when it is not. Survivors of sexual violence question what happened to them but hearteningly, are determined to go on and contest the issues, speaking out boldly.
Kiely’s plot takes its own time, as the author is more concerned about highlighting the relationships at play. He manages to do this without lecturing and the feminist viewpoints made from time to time fit naturally into the story. Tradition comes out strongly on the side of women’s rights and will shock many of the high school college students who read it with its sudden realistic outbreaks of sexual violence. Even America’s privileged world is not immune – and given the survey that pronounced India the most dangerous country for women, this proves that the violation of women is truly global.