My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Pre-read thoughts: I was in a lengthy debate with myself over the measure of whether I wanted to read it or not, but I’ve decided to just give it a go. I’ll admit I’m critical because many NA titles have left me burned as a result and I can’t say I’ve had many to speak fondly of considering some of the issues they have and how they’ve approached them. I’m going to approach this with an open mind and see if it surprises me, though.
Post-read thoughts: I’m just going to copy verbatim what I said in my last status update: Good messages, but contrived presentation and unrealistic characterization. I’m quite disappointed, sadly. It’s definitely not the worst I’ve read in this genre or in general, but I have a lot of words.
Tammara Webber’s “Easy” is a rather inaccurate, formulaic, and juvenile portrayal of the emotional consequence, debate, and coming to terms in the aftermath of rape/sexual assault in a college environment.
I could end the review right on those notes alone, but the unspoken question (aside from whatever projectile objects might be thrown at me for making such a statement) might be why I say this about the novel. It’s difficult enough for me to speak against the grain when there have been so many people, in my reading circles, friends, among those who have read this book, who have sang its praises. I don’t really feel pressured in reviewing this and speaking my mind, but dangnabit, I have to wonder why not very many people saw the very rampant problems that were in this book that counteracted its respective messages. I think there’s something to be said in the individual reading experiences we have and what we are able to see or not see in that measure. I’m totally respectful of that, and I recognize that in other works that I perhaps loved, but others disliked, I may have been more forgiving or seen certain angles of a story very differently. I think that’s fine. Unfortunately, for my experience reading “Easy”, I saw many, many problematic elements here.
To be blunt – where was I during the heart-wrenching, tear jerking events, sing its praises purported feminism, and “OMG squee” worthy moments of this book? I don’t think they ever arrived. I don’t think there was a single moment where I saw this as a multidimensional story with multiple stakes, or a coming to terms for ANY of the characters here, especially the heroine. I struggled on the part of caring for the characters because they were so one-dimensional, cookie cutter caricatures lacking the kind of depth and flesh to make them matter as people dealing with real trials and tribulations. More on that a little later in this review.
“Easy” had some positive messages in spells, which I liked because it’s leaps and bounds better than some of the peer books in this category. However, the book features a plethora of problematic elements to counterbalance the positive statements.
Where do I begin? I suppose it’s worth saying that the first chapter begins with a graphic sexual assault scene. Trigger warning to anyone who picks up this book. I’ll admit it hit me hard as I listened to the audiobook version, not just for the graphic nature of it, but the formulaic notation. I know this book was written and published before Erin McCarthy’s “True”, but I have to give “Easy” the same criticism: starting a book with a rape or near rape scene as a tie linking the two leads together isn’t my idea of romantic. A measure in which someone is either raped or nearly raped is a horrifying experience.
Sure there’s a trope in literature where the damsel is distress is saved by the hero in a moment of peril. It’s a common one, I understand there are some who don’t seem to mind it or actually like that trope for preference. But when you hinge a story like this with such a heavy backdrop of rape/SA and how the heroine comes to terms with it, do you really want to play up the romantic angle against the psychological angles, completely shortchanging the latter on behalf of the former?
That latter notation is exactly what this book did. I’ll admit that was the moment I knew this book could either go in a really bad direction or not really amount to as much as it likely could’ve done.
This story is from the perspective of a college sophomore Jackie (I’ll call her this because it’s easier, but in the story, she prefers Jacqueline) who has to cope with the aftermath of being nearly raped at a party. She’s saved by a stranger (Lucas) who just happens upon her and her would be rapist (Buck). Lucas and Jackie have a tentatively developing relationship following said event, and while Jackie does have reactions of fear in the aftermath of her encounter with Buck, whom she claims she’s known for a year, I found it difficult to believe. Her fear is quite threadbare. I won’t go so far as saying that a rape victim perhaps wouldn’t have felt some of the same things that Jackie goes through (saying that she wouldn’t call the police and disrupt the party and blaming herself, even when Lucas tells her she shouldn’t), but it’s hard to read, because mentally I’m telling myself the right thing to do where she didn’t act upon it. Rape victims go through many different motions depending upon their experiences, backgrounds, knowledge, mental assertions among other things. To assume that there’s just one reaction to a rape/sexual assault is limiting at best, so I’m glad when an author can explore a character’s mindset as to what they think, feel, fear, and bargain in the aftermath.
I could probably get behind the author doing that with respect to Jackie for realism considering in the aftermath of a traumatic event, there are people who do think that way. But then, the narrative continues on like she doesn’t have any sexual triggers stemming from the event in the aftermath. She flinches when Buck threatens her and she’s in his presence, but to assume that it doesn’t have an affect with her relationship with Lucas? Not so much. To top it off, I was actually annoyed with the instalove that’s woven into Jackie and Lucas’s encounter. The characters themselves are set pieces, really.
Benji, the gay friend/sidekick who edges Jackie’s relationship on and comes out to his parents, but there’s not a thing the reader learns about him otherwise (I actually wanted to know him more because I liked his character voice).
Erin, the best friend, who thankfully doesn’t slut shame or blame Jackie for what happened, and she does drop her boyfriend when he supports Buck on the allegations of rape, but I still found it difficult to delve into her character. She keeps encouraging Jackie to make her relationship work with Lucas, and I felt like I was in the middle of reading a chick-lit novel that emphasized the romance rather than the very complex stakes that the heroine endures.
Lucas, the tattooed hero who not only has a contrived conflict with the heroine considering a double identity he has, but also has a past which could’ve been handled with so much better weight than what the narrative provided. It was supposed to be “shocking”, but the way the heroine discovers the truth is so…so darned annoying. I hated Jackie’s jealous streaks and how that pertained to Lucas, and I hated that she didn’t trust him enough And it felt like a way to milk the conflict rather than an actual coming to terms for Lucas.
Buck, who I honestly have to say that I’m really disappointed in how his character came across as pretty much as nothing more than the “evil rapist”. Not a lick of realism. It felt like he was either the villain in a Gossip Girl episode or a formulaic Lifetime movie, as if he wanted to leap from the bushes at some point to tackle and torment the heroine. It felt like such a blatant display of conflict that would not necessarily happen in real life. He tries to assault Jackie three times. THREE TIMES. In at least one of those times, Jackie willingly shows up in the same place she knows he’s going to be and doesn’t feel the least bit anxious about it. It just wasn’t shown well, and it felt contrived. And I feel like the morality play here was milked a bit because there’s the overt measure that Jackie (alongside Erin, with Lucas being an instructor) learns self defense and just so happens to be able to *use* that self defense when he encounters her for the third time. It’s too darned convenient.
Don’t get me started on the professor/former officer who just so happens to be Lucas and Jackie’s instructor. That was also too convenient for the latter conflict of the novel regarding Lucas’s past. I also sincerely doubt that a professor in a college would be so forgiving of a student who missed two weeks, including a major midterm, on the front of “romantic problems.” Jackie was unceremoniously dumped by her former boyfriend Kennedy in the beginning of the novel.
Speaking of Kennedy, I hated him as well, but at least he was intended to be hated on the part of the way he dumps the heroine by making the excuse that he wanted to see other women and that he was dumping her for the sake of preserving his future. Not only that, he totally victim blames a girl who was raped by Buck AND makes the comment that he at first thought Jackie was fabricating her story just because she was upset for breaking up with him. I mentally told him to go screw himself so many times in the course of this novel (to Jackie’s credit, so did she). I didn’t necessarily think his inclusion as a character was a bad one because it did give many opportunities for the author to knock down these stereotypes, but it still felt like he wasn’t more than a set piece in this overarching novel.
Then there’s one character (Note, just ONE character) who makes an impassioned speech against the “mean girls” of the sorority that Erin is a part of (Buck rapes another girl who is a member there. Apparently it was shown that many of the girls totally didn’t believe either the girl that was raped or Jackie’s near attempt, but this character actually come across in a prime scene to knock down the slut shaming/victim blaming that goes on because of her personal experiences. I thought that was one of the more potent aspects of the novel, but it felt like it wasn’t enough for the narrative, nor did her character really have that much scene time to really make it count in the overarching narrative.
There are other characters I could name that fall into these cookie cutter roles, but I’m going to double back to Lucas because for a “bad boy” hero who saves the heroine and knows she was nearly raped – I have to question some of his particular actions towards the heroine, including touching her as he’s trying to sketch her when she’s obviously uncomfortable with it, and while he may ask her in certain spells whether she’s comfortable doing something, he negates asking her in others. Plus there’s one scene where he touches her, but when she goes to touch him, he dismisses it quickly. Argh. He wasn’t a swoon-worthy hero to me at all, and he lacked the dimension/definition of his character to really bring me into his experiences and character.
Finally, as if these fundamental problems with story and characterization weren’t enough, the college environment is pretty inaccurate on a number of levels. No specificity to the school, contradicting information about the classes the characters attend, and just a general lack of immersion in the environment itself – I’ll admit some aspects were okay in terms of Jackie being concerned about her grades and working on homework, but it feels like the scope was too narrow with respect to this being a story set in a college environment. It’s proposed to be a large university measure, but I didn’t really feel like it was that significant to the story, and aspects of it, like Erin McCarthy’s “True” and even Jamie McGuire’s “Beautiful Disaster” – felt more like a secluded high school environment. I get that the sorority/fraternity segments were clique-ish and somewhat isolated compared to the rest of campus, but it still felt like the tone of this story communicated this overarching acceptance of the strife that Jackie among some of the other characters endured with Buck’s actions, but the story made it seem like the characters affected were the only ones speaking out against it.
If you’ve followed some of the cases in the media about rape/sexual assault on a college campus shown here, it’s a more complex issue with multiple sides and dimensions, and with people striving to figure ways to approach the issue – administrators, students, instructors, campus groups, etc. I got angry with this book for narrowing it in such a scope in comparison to the “love” story here. It could’ve been a much more constructive, dimensional story, but it didn’t go as far to show it in a realistic fashion.
Long story short, this narrative didn’t really wow me or bring me into its respective relationships, conflicts, among other dimensions. It not only limits the discussion and presentation of a tough issue, but also delves into formulaic, problematic romantic cliches, doesn’t present the matters in a realistic spectrum, and doesn’t necessarily delve into a coming to terms on a number of levels. Even for some moments of construction for what it provided, it wasn’t enough, and sometimes even contradictory or inaccurate.
I’ll leave you with a song that came to mind when thinking about tattooed tormented heroes (which this book tried to show, but it didn’t necessarily show Lucas’s story all that well, nor with respect to the heroine’s actions), people who lose their way or experience great deals of strife. It came to mind as I wrote this review. Pat Benatar’s “Somebody’s Baby” is a punch gut song, and I think of the opening scene where it shows a 29-year old father – shirtless and sporting tattoos, standing with his son. The video puts a brief statement of his story alongside the fact that he loves his kid. I actually felt more for the stories of the men in that video than I did for any of the males in this book, Lucas included.
Overall score: 2/5