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A delicate balance: taking on the tough issues in YA fiction

Screen shot 2015-02-24 at 2.41.41 PM“As I wrote her story, I kept in mind [that] this is Julia’s first kiss, her first drink, her first boyfriend, her first everything. Being wanted and needed is pretty heady stuff in your first relationship,” says Carmichael. “By the time she sees his love for her as sick, she is in deep.”

In order to avoid falling into cliché and a condescending “after-school special” tone, the authors all say they were careful to try to create realistic, nuanced characters. Each of the girls – and, in most cases, even the boys who mistreat them – has a set of values, a backstory, likeable traits, and flaws. “No one is all good or all bad,” says Carmichael. “A villain, who is still viewed as human – worthy of compassion even – is more compelling and more believable than a hundred-per-cent evil character.”

While the stories differ, there are some similarities: all of the abusers are known to the victims – a much more common situation than the popular “random attacker” story; none of the young women reports the crime and has a satisfying resolution, and, significantly, none sees herself as a victim, though they all respond to their crises in different ways. Krossing’s Tori develops a hero complex; Summers’ Romy retreats and shuts down after she is shamed into silence and told she was “asking for it” because of how she was dressed and because she had been drinking.

“No one asks to be raped,” says Summers. “It was important for me to explore and highlight how deeply awful, insidious, and embedded victim-blaming is in our culture.”

Julia’s predicament is also true-to-life for many teen girls. Carmichael says that the topic of consent (which, it was recently announced, will be specifically addressed in Ontario’s updated sexual-education curriculum) is about how women and girls are viewed by men and boys, but also how they are viewed by society at large. “I think we should have open and loud discussions on what a healthy relationship looks like.”

Krossing agrees: “As long as we have a culture that objectifies girls and women, sexual assault will happen everywhere.”

That these books are all coming out in the same season speaks to the reality that there is more than one story to tell where teen sexual assault and dating violence are concerned.

“We live in a world that often looks for ways to discredit victims of sexual violence, rather than believe and support them,” says Summers. “And not everyone is aware of it, either. I hope [All the Rage] forces some readers to take a closer look at what is happening around them.