Tag Archives: Rape

Review: Funny Gyal by Angeline Jackson and Susan McClelland

Funny Gyal by Angeline Jackson and Susan McClelland

Funny Gyal: My Fight Against Homophobia in Jamaica
Angeline Jackson and Susan McClelland
Dundurn Press
Published June 7, 2022

Amazon | BookshopGoodreads

About Funny Gyal

“Instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out…that’s the power of one person.” — Barack Obama

The inspiring story of Angeline Jackson, who stood up to Jamaica’s oppression of queer youth to demand recognition and justice.

When Angeline Jackson was a child, she wondered if there was something wrong with her for wanting to kiss the other girls. But as her sexuality blossomed in her teens, she knew she wouldn’t “grow out of it” and that her attraction to girls wasn’t against God. In fact, she discovered that same-sex relationships were depicted in the Bible, which she read devoutly, even if the tight-knit evangelical Christian community she grew up in believed any sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and woman was a sin, and her society, Jamaica, criminalized homosexual sex.

Angeline’s story begins with her traumatic experience of “corrective rape” when she is lured by an online predator, then traces her childhood through her sexual and spiritual awakening as a teen — falling in love, breaking up, coming out, and then being forced into conversion therapy.

Sometimes dark, always threadbare and honest, FUNNY GYAL chronicles how Angeline’s faith deepens as a teenager, despite her parents’ conservative values and the strict Christian Jamaican society in which she lives, giving her the courage to challenge gender violence, rape culture, and oppression.

My Review

This book blew me away. I kind of expected that, to be honest. I was interested in reading more about Angeline Jackson for her activism and her experiences, but I’ve also read EVERY FALLING STAR by Sunju Lee and Susan McClelland. It’s been years since I read that book, but I still think about it, so I had high expectations for another memoir with Susan McClelland assisting in putting it together.

FUNNY GYAL drew me in from its early pages and didn’t let me go until the end of the book. I loved reading a queer, faith-positive story that continually challenged the idea that a person much choose between different aspects of who they are: faith or identity. Over and over Angeline Jackson returns to the idea that she can be, and is, both a person of faith and a lesbian, and that those two ideas aren’t in competition with one another.

I won’t lie– some parts of the book are hard to read. She describes some encounters with homophobic people. She also describes the trauma of rape, and the fears and doubts about the police taking the case seriously. Through her shared experiences, though, she reveals how the prejudices against LGBTQIA people leave them vulnerable as victims of violent crime. She shows incredible resilience and love, not only for herself, but for her country and her people.

She speaks frankly about the continual pain that it causes her for her family to choose a “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of relationship with her. And how that makes her feel as though she can never fully be herself with them.

All in all, FUNNY GYAL is a rich, bold and vulnerable memoir about courage and resilience and finding your people. I loved this book. If you’re still looking for a good memoir to add to your Pride TBR this month, definitely check out this book!

Content Notes

Content warning for rape, homophobia, and abuse.

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Angeline and her family are Jamaican. Angeline is a lesbian.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Two men rape Angeline and her friend at gunpoint. The event itself isn’t graphically described, but her trauma is.

Two girls kissing. Mentions of sex between two girls. Mention of oral sex between a boy and girl. At one point, Angeline (a teenager) enters into a sexual relationship with an adult who has had a position of authority over her.

Spiritual Content
Angeline is raised in a devout Christian home and church where she’s taught that same sex attraction or relationships are a sin. She points out that other Christian churches believe differently, and some are LGBTQ+ affirming. Angeline herself remains a Christian.

Violent Content
See sexual content. At times people say homophobic things to Angeline or others.

Drug Content
References to drinking alcohol. Reference to drugs slipped into a person’s drink. Angeline also attends a party and drinks alcohol.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of FUNNY GYAL in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Tonight We Rule the World by Zack Smedley

Tonight We Rule the World
Zack Smedley
Page Street Kids
Published October 12, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Tonight We Rule the World

In the beginning, Owen’s story was blank . . . then he was befriended by Lily, the aspiring author who helped him find his voice. Together, the two have spent years navigating first love and amassing an inseparable friend group. But all of it is upended one day when his school’s administration learns Owen’s secret: that he was sexually assaulted by a classmate.

In the ensuing investigation, everyone scrambles to hold their worlds together.

Owen, still wrestling with his self-destructive thoughts and choices.

His father, a mission-driven military vet ready to start a war to find his son’s attacker.

The school bureaucrats, who seem most concerned with kowtowing to the local media attention.

And Lily, who can’t learn that Owen is the mystery victim everyone is talking about . . . because once she does, it will set off a chain of events that will change their lives forever.

Heartbreaking and hopeful, this is a coming-of-age story that explores how we rebuild after the world comes crumbling down.

My Review

First, there are a lot of things about this book that I really liked. I felt like Owen’s character was really real and gripping. I loved the way the friendships with his group developed and especially the scene on the beach with them. So many of those moments felt exactly the way I remember my high school friendships feeling, so reading them was super nostalgic for me.

I also thought it was interesting that on one side, Owen had his dad and his family’s struggles with his dad’s PTSD and how to respond to it. Then on the other side, there’s Owen with a relationship that spirals into abuse. It highlighted how complex relationships can be– how there can be good elements tangled in with toxic or abusive ones and how difficult that can be to sort out.

It was also really weird for me as a reader because as I read some of the conversations between Owen and his abuser and Owen’s thoughts as he scrambled to stay ahead of the gaslighting and manipulation, I realized I’d been in those same conversations before, in Owen’s shoes. So that was both validating but also kind of ripping open a past wound I wasn’t prepared for? I think it was good, but I just didn’t expect to experience that.

I guess all of that together makes this book one of those to approach with attention to triggers. The story raised some really good points about toxic and abusive relationships and consent. It also explores some gender stereotypes in a way that may expose some prejudices or expectations we may not realize we have. I know it did that for me.

I think readers who like dark, issue-driven stories with memorable characters will want to check out TONIGHT WE RULE THE WORLD. I’d recommend it to fans of Courtney Summers or Lauren Oliver.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Owen is diagnosed with ASD and is bisexual. His dad is a Marines veteran with PTSD.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content – Trigger warning for rape.
Several references to masturbation. Kissing between boy and girl, making out. One scene showing rape.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
One scene showing rape. Several scenes show some gaslighting and manipulation. This escalates to physical violence on multiple occasions. Owen recalls a memory in which he woke his dad up in the middle of the night and his dad hit him due to his PTSD.

Drug Content
Some references to teens smoking pot and drinking alcohol.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of TONIGHT WE RULE THE WORLD in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Borrowed by Lucia DiStefano

Lucia DiStefano
Elephant Rock Books
Published on November 1, 2018

Amazon | Goodreads

About Borrowed

Love, mystery, and danger collide in this new literary thriller with the dark heart of a Gillian Flynn novel and the lyrical prose of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

A triumph of authenticity, grace, and nail-biting suspense, Lucia DiStefano’s ingenious debut is an unflinching, genre-bending page-turner.

As seventeen-year-old Linnea celebrates the first anniversary of her heart transplant, she can’t escape the feeling that the wires have been crossed. After a series of unsettling dreams, inked messages mysteriously appear on her body, and she starts to wonder if this new heart belongs to her at all.

In another Austin neighborhood, Maxine braces for a heartbreaking anniversary: her sister Harper’s death. Between raising her brothers and parenting her grief-stricken mother, Max is unable to ignore her guilty crush on Harper’s old flame or shake her lingering suspicion that her sister’s drowning wasn’t really an accident. With Harper as the sole connection, Linnea and Maxine are soon brought together in fantastic and terrifying ways as the shocking truth behind Harper’s death comes to light.

My Review
I would describe Borrowed as Return to Me (as in the movie starring Minnie Driver and David Duchovny) meets The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

The premise totally fascinated me. What if this girl who received a heart transplant started getting messages from the new heart inside her? I loved this idea. And I loved Max and Linnea. Both are pretty unusual teens—Linnea because she’s a transplant recipient, so for much of her life, she’d been sick and waiting for the transplant. She doesn’t go to school (though she’s supposed to get her GED), and she works full time as a pastry chef. So not an entry level thing. This makes her seem a lot more like an adult than a teen.

Max manages the care of the rest of her family and clearly wrestles with survivor’s guilt after her sister’s death. So she, too, feels more adult than teen.

But both situations seemed understandable and worked in the story. Max’s care for her siblings and the hard calls she has to make with her mom definitely won me over. Linnea had me with her spirit and her creativity.

Somewhere around the three-quarter point, the story takes kind of a dark turn. I’m not good with stories like this—ones that show sexual trauma, even if the details aren’t outright explicit, so I struggled with this part of the book. I definitely think it could trigger sensitive readers.

I liked that each girl handled the situation very differently, fighting in their own ways. But it was too intense for me. I finished reading it—didn’t want to stop in the dark part. For readers who like this kind of intense, dark story, Borrowed really hits those notes and packs some interesting characters as well. I’d say it’s a good fit for fans of The Lovely Bones.

Recommended for Ages 17 up.

Cultural Elements
Major characters are white or not physically described. One of Linnea’s best friends is Latina.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used fairly frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing, references to sex. For instance, Max uses sex with her boyfriend as a way to escape the pressures in her life for a while. The last part of the story contains some scenes with some intense content including rape and assault. There’s not a play-by-play description of the event, but we’re in the mind of the victim and see a great deal of the emotional trauma and some of the physical trauma she endures. Definitely not for sensitive readers. Honestly, this was probably a bit too much even for me to read.

Spiritual Content
Some references to God and a brief “Thank you, Jesus”… more cultural references than spiritual ones, if that makes sense? At one point Chris gives Max a cross he carved from wood as a sort of good luck charm or symbol. It’s clear neither of them mean it as a spiritual symbol.

One character believes fervently that he is called by God to do some horrible things and uses scripture references to defend some awful treatment of others.

Violent Content
See notes in sexual content. Some brief memories and descriptions of someone attacking a girl.

Drug Content
Harper smoked weed and drank with a boy before she died. Teens smoke cigarettes. Max and her boyfriend get drunk together.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

About Lucia DiStefano

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

A former high school English teacher, Lucia DiStefano currently works as an editor, ghostwriter, and writing coach. First-generation Sicilian-American and daughter of an olive farmer, she admits to having recurring pasta dreams. Hailing from central Connecticut, Lucia lives near Austin, Texas with her husband and an old bloodhound named Waffle.

Follow the Blog Tour for More

August 1: Cover reveal at YA Interrobang

September 4: Review at Alice Reeds

September 10: Author interview at Alice Reeds

September 24: Cover reveal at BubblersRead

October 8: Review at Liz Loves Books  

October 9-15: Giveaway at Miss Print

October 15: Review at BubblersRead

October 17: Guest post at Liz Loves Books

October 22: Excerpt at YA Interrobang

October 25: Author interview at YA Outside the Lines  

October 31: Author interview at Katya de Becerra: The Last Day of Normal

November 1: Giveaway and guest post at Carina’s Books

November 5: Author interview at BubblersRead

November 12: Author guest post at BubblersRead

November 14: Author interview at Cynsations

November 19: First impressions video with YouTuber BookRatMisty

November 20: First impressions on The Book Rat

November 20: Author interview at The Story Sanctuary

December 3: Review at The Story Sanctuary – you are here!

December 5: Podcast Interview at The Writing Barn

Like Elephant Rock on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @ElephantRockBks for book and blog tour news and updates!


Review: Wrecked by Maria Padian

Maria Padian
Algonquin Young Readers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

In the midst of Haley’s recovery from a concussion, she learns her roommate has been raped. As Jenny wrestles with the aftermath of the trauma, she’s faced with a lot of decisions: should she report the incident to the college? Should she go to the police? She depends on Haley for support, a burden which Haley isn’t sure she’s capable of shouldering. Especially when a group of aggressive feminists rally around Jenny to support her and convince her to respond the way they believe is best.

In this midst of all this, Haley meets Richard, a handsome fellow student and math tutor. Just when it seems she may have, for the first time, found someone special, she learns that Richard lives in the same house with the boy who raped Jenny. Worse still, he recently dated the gorgeous lead feminist. (She dumped him for his chauvinistic attitudes, another fact that makes Haley nervous.)

The two struggle to navigate the new relationship in the midst of the crisis, and it’s not easy. Rumors, distrust and scandal show up at every turn. If there’s any hope of a future for them, Haley and Richard will have to find out the truth about what happened to Jenny and resolve for themselves what constitutes sexual consent.

This was a tough read. (I feel like I’m saying that a lot lately.) I liked that rather than the story being from the point-of-view of the victim and perpetrator, it’s told from the perspective of bystanders. There’s a lot of hope in the development of Haley and Richard’s relationship, and a lot of opportunity for healing.

Wrecked brings a lot of great moments offering discussion on consent. It sheds light on the process a rape victim might go through as she reports the incident and the information becomes relatively public. It shows how an entitled college kid could take advantage of a girl almost without realizing it.

He should have realized it. That’s kind of the point. But honestly, isn’t this another reason that getting drunk at a party like this is a terrible idea? Would he have realized, had he been sober, that this girl was in no position to give him her consent, and that she in fact was only barely conscious? Because that’s another conversation we need to be having.

His inebriation doesn’t excuse him anymore than it would if he’d chosen to get behind the wheel of a car. But I’m not sure we’re doing a great job educating kids about this either. As a culture, don’t we sort of treat college drinking—sometimes even teen drinking—like some kind of rite of passage? At any rate, I’d have liked to see that connection between drinking and making bad—criminal, in this case—decisions more clearly drawn in Wrecked, but even without it, the focus on the consent issue was very well-done.

More and more I’m convinced that consent is a conversation we need to have and aren’t having enough. I think Padian presented a wide array of responses to the topic in Wrecked, from the uber-politically-correct feminists to the creepazoid guy who spearheads a slander campaign against Jenny on social media. If this isn’t a conversation-starter, I don’t know what is.

Cultural Elements
Most characters appear to be white middle- or upper-class. One character is African-American.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used moderately throughout the book.

Romance/Sexual Content – TRIGGER WARNING
We learn Jenny’s account of her experience through what she says in a hearing as well as in a real-time scene describing what happens to her. A boy has sex with her while she’s just in and out of consciousness. It’s described explicitly.

Richard reflects on his relationship with Carrie, and at one point begins to tell her that he enjoyed how assertive she was with him the night before. (That’s pretty much as explicit as he gets.) Later, another girl interested in him laments her status as a virgin. She worries that the fact that he has sexual experience will mean that he’s not interested in her or won’t respect her boundaries. She doesn’t feel committed to her virginity, she’s just inexperienced thus far.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
See sexual content. The rape isn’t violent in terms of the boy doesn’t attack her, though it’s no less wrong or traumatic.

Drug Content
College students drink alcohol at parties and beforehand. Rumors state that one boy who mixed drinks for a party may have added drugs to them.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.




Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers: Review and Thoughts on Book Banning

Some Girls Are
Courtney Summers
St. Martin’s Griffin

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard—falling from it is even harder.  Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her—and her best friend’s boyfriend—start going around.  Now Regina’s been frozen out, and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. 

If Regina were guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth, and the bullying is getting more intense by the day.  She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past whom she herself used to bully.  Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend…if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens, as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of CRACKED UP TO BE.

My Review

It’s hard for me not to compare this book to ALL THE RAGE, a more recently published novel by Courtney Summers which deals with some of the same issues (see content warning). I think I liked ALL THE RAGE better because it dealt more with the way the town as a whole responded to a rape allegation and some brutal high school bullying. I also connected more with Romy, the protagonist in ALL THE RAGE.

In SOME GIRLS ARE, Regina comes to regret her role in bullying other students, but in some ways, it still feels like that’s all she knows. She retaliates against her former friends in an effort to bring them down low enough that they’ll leave her alone. Instead, it continues the vicious cycle, only adding more fuel to the fires of revenge.

I think choosing to tell SOME GIRLS ARE from Regina’s perspective and bringing her passion for revenge to the forefront were really bold decisions and carried an important message. Regina isn’t the stereotypical novel victim, and I loved that. Unfortunately, I think I just didn’t really believe in her transformation at the end. I needed to see like three chapters more showing that she’d really changed and that she and Michael (whom I absolutely LOVED!!!) could work out together.

In YA, resolving an issue with any kind of adult involvement gets really tricky. Having a grown-up soar in and rescue the protagonist is a storytelling no-no. So I both appreciate and understand why that wasn’t the direction Summers took with the resolution of SOME GIRLS ARE. With a situation involving this kind of brutal bullying, it’s hard for me as a parent not to want adults involved. I believe we want kids to know they can and should bring adults into the equation when they reach a point where they can no longer attend school and feel safe.

I do want to acknowledge that sometimes kids are in situations where there isn’t a safe adult for them to go to, so I know that isn’t always a viable solution in real life, either.

SOME GIRLS ARE left me wishing for at least a nod to some adult figure who made at least some responsible call somewhere. Instead, I felt like the message was that if you can get good enough blackmail on a bully, you might just be able to stop the whole cycle.

Update: Since reading this book, I’ve discovered that I tend not to enjoy revenge stories. So probably at least part of my feelings for this one relate to that preference.

Content Notes

Content warning for mentions of rape, bullying, physical violence, mentions of suicide, death of a parent, drug use, drinking alcohol.

Language Content
Extreme and frequent use of profanity.

Sexual Content
At a party, a boy tries to rape a girl. He tears her skirt and leaves her arms bruised. Regina and her boyfriend Josh have had sex before. A boy taunts Regina about it, repeatedly asking if she only likes it in the dark. He also makes a crude comment about oral sex. Kissing between a boy and girl.

Spiritual Content

See sexual content. A group of girls surround Regina and repeatedly punch and kick her. A boy elbows another boy in the face, giving him a bloody nose. A dodgeball hits a boy in the face, giving him a bloody nose. A girl trips another girl, sending her tumbling down the stairs.

Girls use social media to bully Regina. They spread rumors about her and say cruel things to her and to one another. It’s not the first time this group has bullied someone. A previous target tried to commit suicide.

Brief reference to a woman killed when an overpass collapsed on her car. No real description of the accident.

Drug Content
One boy supplies students with pharmaceutical drugs. Teens gather at parties to drink alcohol. Mentions of smoking pot. Regina is the designated driver at both parties, but mentions that she drinks heavily at other times and winds up sick at the end of the night. She drinks alcohol in a couple of other scenes.

On Some Girls Are Being Removed from a Charleston Summer Reading List

I bought this book last summer (2015) when I heard about the decision by West Ashley High in Charleston to remove the book from their ninth grade summer reading list after receiving complaints from a parent about the content of the novel. The messages the books tackles are really important to us as a culture. I really admire this author’s unflinching look at some of the darker moments of high school. But, I see why it concerned this parent that a very limited required reading list included this option.

I have really mixed feelings about banning books. The short answer is I’m generally not a fan of book-banning. Largely because one vocal minority makes a decision that no one should have the option to read a particular book. I do not want to give the power to a select group to decide what we’re allowed to read.

I love that this particular parent made the choice to read the book with her daughter. Her ninth grade daughter had the choice between this book and another one and would be tested on comprehension once school started. As a parent, I’d certainly be uncomfortable with the amount of explicit content included in the book. I’d be uncomfortable that it’s on a reading list like this, where there are such limited options.

Banning a book, though, means one parent or a few make a decision for many kids beyond their own. I’m not sure that the book was banned in the school district as a whole, however. The article I read only mentions removing it from the reading list and adding another alternative selection for the class.

Courtney Summers received a ton of support from her fans and the YA community after the whole incident. Fans donated several hundred copies of the book, and public libraries in Charleston distributed them to the community. I think it’s really great that she received so much support. I do really believe in the importance of the kinds of issues she tackles in her writing.

Note: Post updated July 4, 2022. This post contains affiliate links which don’t cost anything to use but which help generate support for this blog.

Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage
Courtney Summers
St. Martin’s Griffin

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

In this small town, you don’t accuse the sheriff’s son of rape. But that’s just what he did to Romy Grey. No one believes her. Her accusation becomes the stick her former friends use to beat her. There’s only one place Romy can go to find peace. At the restaurant on the edge of town, no one knows Romy’s past. Handsome grill cook Leo likes her. Really likes her.

But when those two parts of her life collide and a girl goes missing, Romy has nowhere to hide anymore. She finds herself cornered and terrified by a town that wishes she were gone instead of the beautiful missing girl. As pieces of a night Romy can’t remember begin to fall into place, she learns another brutal truth. A truth she can’t keep quiet any longer.

To many contemporary YA readers, this isn’t an unfamiliar story: girl gets raped; town crucifies her for telling the truth. It’s been told before. What makes All the Rage so powerful and fresh is Summers’ intense, evocative writing.

Romy’s situation ultimately places a larger burden on the town and forces them to confront their own fears. At the beginning of the story, no one wants to cross the sheriff. Not even Romy’s own mother. But the illusion that this is a sustainable way of life is dismantled brick by brick as the story unfolds and the cost of turning a blind eye rises to terrible heights.

It definitely brings to mind the famous quote by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Language Content
Extreme profanity and some crude language, infrequent use.

Sexual Content
Romy remembers being raped. It’s pretty raw. There are some descriptions of the physical event but what’s more center-stage and so powerful about Summers’ writing is always the emotional impact on the character.

There are some explicit sexual comments made at Romy or in her presence.

Later, Romy has an opportunity for a relationship with a boy who’s kind to her. We see her trying to process her past through this new relationship. There are some explicit details about her encounters with him. He respects her and is often confused by her mixed signals.

Spiritual Content

In the locker room, girls bully Romy. She has a lot of shame about her body, and the girls pick on her pretty relentlessly. A boy trips her while she’s running. Students steal her underwear and use them in a prank. The physical bullying is bad, but it’s the constant emotional bullying that’s truly awful.

Drug Content
Romy gets very drunk at a party and is later raped. High school seniors have a party by the lake, and everyone knows drinking and sex are a huge part of what goes on there. Adults turn a blind eye with the mentality that it’s a rite of passage and shouldn’t be stopped. (They’ll have a reality check on this later.)