Size Doesn’t Matter (165): Tease, The Year of the Gadfly

Size Doesn’t Matter (165): Tease, The Year of the GadflyTease by Amanda Maciel
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Length: 8 hrs, 33 mins
Published by Harper Audio on April 29, 2014
Genres: Contemporary
Format: Audiobook
Source: Purchased
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If you gulped through reading or streaming 13 Reasons Why, Tease is the book for you.

Provocative, unforgettable, and inspired by real-life incidents, Amanda Maciel's highly acclaimed debut novel Tease is the story of a teenage girl who faces criminal charges for bullying after a classmate commits suicide. With its powerful narrative, unconventional point of view, and strong anti-bullying theme, this coming-of-age story offers smart, insightful, and nuanced views on high school society, toxic friendships, and family relationships.

Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault. At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who's ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy.

And she'll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.

I’m not entirely sure what made me want to read Tease, but at some point I bought the audiobook. When I ran out of review audiobooks, I chose this one because it had been on my Audible the longest. Tease does a nice job making the points that it’s making, but it’s not a pleasant read since it’s all about slut shaming, suicide, toxic friendships, and bullying.

Sara is one of several classmates who has been criminally charged for bullying Emma Putnam, who committed suicide due to intense bullying. This book is, unsurprisingly, hard to take. For most of the book, Sara is completely unrepentant, insisting she did absolutely nothing wrong. She feels it’s unfair because everyone was mean to Emma, and she often just followed along. Besides, Emma only got bullied because she was a slut and stole people’s boyfriends, like Sara’s. For most of the book, Sara is mean and nasty and a bully. That’s the point of the book obviously, but youch.

No one in this book is particularly likable, except for Sara’s eventual love interest, who tbh could probably do better. Sara does eventually learn a little bit, but it doesn’t feel like a massive transformation. The saving grace here is that Sara’s clearly the product of toxic friendships, even having been peer pressured into having sex with her boyfriend before she was ready. Separating from Brielle does help her, as does experiencing being bullied herself as one of the people who harassed Emma into suicide.

Tease isn’t really up my specific readerly alley, but, if you’re into books about these heavy topics, I think Tease does a really nice job avoiding the melodramatic. The characters are well-drawn and the points effectively made.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

I received this book for free from Purchased in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (165): Tease, The Year of the GadflyThe Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller
Narrator: Suzy Jackson
Length: 14 hrs, 11 mins
Published by Audible on May 31, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Format: Audiobook
Source: Purchased
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Mariana Academy is a storied institution, built with gothic architecture, founded with a serious honor code and, for the most part, run by its students. But Prisom's Party, a secret society named after the school's founder, has been troubling these quiet halls, naming the student community code an empty motto—Brotherhood, Truth, and Equality for All—and exposing teachers, students, and the school for every indiscretion or dishonesty.

Taken by her parents from the familiar environs of Beacon Hill in Boston to escape the loss of her best friend, Iris Dupont is now living in small-town Nye, Massachusetts, and attending the hyper-competitive Mariana. Her only confidant is a chain-smoking, challenge-wielding spectre named Edward R. Murrow and when he tells her to stop moping and get out there in search of a story, she takes the charge.

Now Iris is on the hunt for a great story, one that will make her the youngest editor-in-chief in the school newspaper's history, but her research is leading her deep into the Trench (the school basement), toward the staff of The Devil's Advocate (the underground news organ of Prisom's Party), and to discovering all the secrets they both hold. Some of them seem to involve her favorite teacher, Mr. Kaplan. Some of them seem to point to the girl who used to live in her house—an albino named Lily Morgan who left the school abruptly twelve years ago and seems to have never returned. And everything seems to be connected to a rare book she found in her borrowed room, Marvelous Species: Investigating Earth’s Mysterious Biology.

Was all of this triggered by the string of incidents that set the school on high alert? Does it trace back to a scandal Mr. Kaplan is hiding in his past? What is the meaning of the strange symbol that keeps showing up in the wake of the Prisom's Party incidents? And when Iris gets deep into the story, torn by her allegiances, her reporter's instinct, and her yearning for a true friend, will it be enough for her to ask: What would Edward Murrow do?

As a follow up to Tease, I decided to listen to The Year of the Gadfly, another book I bought on Audible but didn’t know too much about. This turned out to be a bad idea both because I didn’t end up liking it but also because it’s very similar thematically to Tease, only with all the melodrama and discomfort Tease spared me.

Iris transfers to Mariana Academy, a fancy prep school plagued by a secret society that reveals people’s secrets, supposedly for justice. The setting and basic plot idea could have been pretty cool, I think, but the characters are all so cringe-worthy that I really couldn’t appreciate any of it.

Though in theory Iris is the typical sort of YA heroine, in that she’s smart and nerdy, it’s not in a way that I found remotely relatable. She lacks self-awareness for one thing, and she’s weird in a way that even I’m not used to. That might sound cruel, but she speaks to and sees reporter Edward Murrow, who is her idol. I kept expecting this to be a mental health book, but it’s very much not. Plus, she’s got this obsessive crush on her teacher Mr. Kaplan which just grossed me out tbh. View Spoiler »

In the alternate timeline, The Year of the Gadfly follows Lily, whose room Iris is living in many years later. Lily’s an albino, and her story is all about toxic friendships and the incredibly awful decisions people will make in the pursuit of popularity and acceptance. This timeline manages to be perhaps MORE fucked up. View Spoiler »

I definitely wouldn’t have gotten through The Year of the Gadfly had I not been listening to the audiobook. Then again, I might have been happier DNFing. The audiobook’s pretty good, though I will always be firmly in the belief that multiple POVs require multiple narrators, if it’s in first or third person limited. That creates the best immersion in the story and makes it simpler to differentiate who the story is currently focusing on.

High school life sucks. Toxic friendships are real. So are student crushes on teachers, bullying, betrayal, and all the shitty things depicted here. However, The Year of the Gadfly is as realistic a depiction of high school as Girls is of being in your mid-twenties.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


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