Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
NB: Content advisory for rape, suicide, and violence.
Synopsis: Junior year, Hadley's best friend, Magda, is assaulted at a party. Hadley doesn't understand why Magda doesn't speak up about it, retaliate against the boys who are catcalling her, and stiffen her spine. Hadley urges Magda to act, but Magda chooses not to, and Hadley is grief-stricken and enraged at the loss of her friend, and most of her rage centers on seeing the perpetrators in class every day. As her senior year goes forward, Hadley looks not to the future, but to the past, which remains to her out of balance. She sets herself as the avenger for Magda's death, encouraging girls to join a self-defense course and learn martial arts while plotting to provide the justice against the four boys that no one else has given them. Along the way, she grows closer to Magda's brother, and begins a wave of pink ski-mask vigilantism to save other women from bad situations. This is the basic narrative, without providing too much detail or spoilers.
Observations: Content advisory again: this novel is pretty violent, and some of the scenes of violence are pretty sustained, and I skipped them. Normally, I wouldn't review a novel I skipped part of, but I picked up this novel because the jacket copy said it was a "brutally honest" look at retribution - and since I'd just read a novel on someone faking being who they were, I thought "honest" was a good thing. I assumed that a female main character taking matters into her own hands would be somewhat empowering - and I know other people may come to this work with that in mind.
The biggest problem that I had with Vigilante - one of many problematic things - is how Hadley implies, in a variety of ways, that Magda is at fault for her rape. I know that's framed in their disagreement in the beginning of the novel as 'a bad thing to say' and the kickoff for the narrative arc and Hadley's vigilantism, but the same is implied elsewhere, later, and the novel doesn't really take it back. For example, as Hadley implies that is doing what Magda should have done, as she learns martial arts and physically empowers herself. Unfortunately, physical power does not guarantee that you can repel a physical attack, and the novel doesn't seem to really take much time to point this out. Hadley is very, very secure in her physical prowess, as if women who are not are somehow taking a chance with their ...safety, and thus somehow doing something wrong. Someone asks Hadley and the detective leading her self-defense course "shouldn't we be teaching men not to rape?" and Hadley says, "Yeah, good luck with that," which... yeah. I'm aware that the character is written in part to be an unreliable narrator, but unfortunately the narrative itself doesn't work through some of her unreliableness.
Early in the novel, Hadley evinces her interest in Magda's brother. Their relationship leaps into reality after Magda's death, and that didn't work as realistic entirely for me - although I do understand how loss can lead people into a physical expression of "we're still alive," but attraction and arousal was a strange third party to a novel about grief, and it seemed to float around just as awkwardly in scenes which would have otherwise been Magda centered. This seemed like the pitfall of All YA Novels Must Have Romance, and... no.
I assumed that the narrative would point out the problems inherent in that ideology. They didn't really. Instead, the novel seemed to glorify actions taken in a white-hot rage, almost identifying Hadley as a superhero, with copycats and a special name, even going so far as to contemplate sexual assault against someone (which she says there's no such thing as sexual assault against a man - oh, yes there is, and the novel doesn't correct her assumption on that, either), in the name of making right her friend's assault - an assault she's allegedly decrying by her actions. She spends inordinate amounts of time in the novel worrying about getting caught, yet her repeated behaviors almost seem as if she's hoping she does -- she wants to talk about This Elephant In The Room -- Magda, whom she feels no one cares about but her, thinks about but her, or talks about as they should - but her. This exaggeratedly centering herself in someone else's story persists throughout the novel. In the end, she's the "heroine" of the piece, which didn't work for me.
Conclusion: This book has a lot of action, a lot of roaring, feel-good kind of anger, and a righteous cause, but I feel like it has more problems than I'm comfortable recommending along with it. Readers who like a riproaring, girls-kick-butt kind of narrative, and don't worry about subtext may enjoy it.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of Harlequin Teen. You can find VIGILANTE by Kady Cross at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!