I really love the way YA literature has expanded since I was a kid. People can hate on Twilight all they want, but I’m still so impressed with the way that the attention the Twilight saga generated for “right” and “wrong” in teen books opened up a whole new chapter for YA lit. Grown people read YA regularly now– that’s a trend I didn’t see much of before Twilight. And most importantly, readers of all ages speak up about what they wanted to see (or not) in YA lit– and writers listen. Now YA shelves are full of books with positive messages, minority representations, and acknowledgement of real-world issues. There’s still progress to be made, but watching the transformation so far has been incredible.
That’s why I keep coming back to YA, even as I outgrow it. I wish YA had looked like it does today back when it was the only thing I read. So I keep picking up books like T E Carter’s new YA novel, I Stop Somewhere. It’s a novel about rape culture in modern society. It narrates, it informs, and it reminds girls that they’re not alone and that they have something to fight for. And it does these things in an accessible way for young readers. That’s so cool.
About the book: Ellie Frias was raped. She fell in love with the first boy who told her she was beautiful, and he took advantage of every inch of her: mind, body, and heart. And afterward, when he keeps doing the same things to other girls, Ellie can’t do anything about it. She spends months waiting for justice for what happened to her, watching her case move slowly forward while her community tears her reputation apart, along with the other girls brave enough to come forward.
I Stop Somewhere is utterly gutting. It delves deeply into two topics from one teenage girl’s perspective: rape, and death. These are covered with a bit of a heavy hand, though it doesn’t quite veer into overly sentimental territory. The chapters go back and forth between Ellie’s past with the events leading up to her rape, and her present while she’s officially a missing person and her attackers are still at large. It’s a powerful premise…
…but succinctness might have packed more of a punch. When I brought this book home from the library, I opened to the first page just to sample the writing, and I could not put it down for about 50 pages. Those early pages sucked me in and let me piece together what happened that separated Ellie’s past and present narratives, but then the arguments began circling each other, picking apart every nuance of every detail. There are times this book feels more like an essay on certain social injustices than a novel, but my issue lied more in the fact that its provocative prose answers so many of its own questions. So much of this story is commentary rather than plot, but I think more of a focus on the plot would’ve started some great commentary on its own. I tabbed a dozen lines in this book that expanded the way I thought about sexism and rape, but even so I was bored. The entire middle portion of the book crawls by as crumbs of information come out at a time, which may be fitting to the time frame of real investigations but did not help me invest in this book the way that I wanted to. So many of the messages in this book are strong and important and exciting to see talked about in a YA novel, but they lose momentum when the plot stagnates.
There are also moments, particularly in the middle portion of the book as the investigation proceeds, when connections are being made almost too easily for belief. With little or no evidence, girls’ stories are linked, assumptions are made about the criminals and their crimes, and the police make discoveries based on vague clues. No more than the bare bones of the legal processes are holding up the plausibility of this story– its heavy on the morality, and light on intriguing courtroom drama.
Let’s go back to the emphasis on social commentary: specifically involving rape and death. I wish I Stop Somewhere had focused on one of those extremes (preferably the rapes) more exclusively. The death discussion does relate to rape and it does create a narrative structure for this story, but a lot of the death exploration is no more than speculation. There’s a lot of coverage on the rules of death in this fictional world– where someone goes after death, what physical rules still constrain them, how they can move in and interact with the world at that time. And all of that feels so unnecessary to the bigger problem being addressed: the difficulty of prosecuting a rapist.
“They’ve been trying to get more girls to come forward. But I can’t imagine why anyone would. The system is set up to make you want to be quiet.”
Aside from the technical hang-ups, I found a lot to love about I Stop Somewhere. The size of Ellie’s high school is pretty close to the size of mine, so it was easy to plant this hypothetical into my own sphere of experience. Although my personal experiences have been nothing like Ellie’s, I found her easy to empathize with: she’s a completely ordinary teen with common teen worries about fitting in and becoming a woman that will probably resonate with a wide audience of readers from many backgrounds (and not exclusively female, though girls do seem to be the target audience).
“I don’t want to blame myself anymore. I only wanted to belong. I wanted so badly to be taken in– by someone, someplace. Anyone. Anyplace. I wanted it enough to screw up and lose myself, but I am still not to blame.”
And most importantly, I Stop Somewhere is a book that inspires change. It highlights a problem in modern society to draw attention to where the judicial system is failing. It acknowledges that for girls with situations like Ellie’s or the others mentioned in this book that it is hard to come forward and advocate for rebuilding the system– but also that every voice matters. Every girl’s story is important, and every small victory is a step toward securing the respect and justice that all girls deserve.
“Being a girl was all that landed me here. Having all the parts they wanted, but being nothing more than that.”
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. In a lot of ways, I Stop Somewhere felt like an updated The Lovely Bones. I loved The Lovely Bones in high school but it’s been years since I’ve had any reminders of it so I actually liked that. Although I Stop Somewhere is not my favorite YA book– not even my favorite YA book about rape– I think it’s great that books like this exist for young readers. It was an infuriating and validating reading experience, and I’m glad I read it, even though it made me cry.
- The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I’m on the fence here, between recommending either this one or I Stop Somewhere more strongly. They are very similar in some ways. I would probably recommend I Stop Somewhere for teen readers, and The Lovely Bones for older readers who still dabble in YA.
- The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. This is my favorite YA novel about modern rape culture. There are a few harder-to-believe aspects that makes this one feel a little less realistic, but it’s no less fierce and important for that. If you’re only going to read one YA book about rape, this one would be a great choice.
- The Girls by Emma Cline. This one has less to do with rape, but it features a similar sort of commentary on what it’s like to be a girl. It also focuses on death, by fictionalizing Charles Manson’s cult and their murderous crimes. This is an adult book, though the main character is a teen girl.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Here’s another great YA book for readers interested in fiction that deals with real social issues. This one has nothing to do with rape, but it does offer some great commentary about racism.
Have you read any good YA books with real-life applications lately? I would love some more suggestions!
The Literary Elephant