This is part of a series concerned with young adult books with LGBT themes, because I read a lot of such books and want to share them with you.
The only reason I did not read Rage: A Love Story (2009) in one sitting is that I overwhelmingly needed to sleep. This is not to say that it is an enjoyable book. It is an excellent one, as are all of Julie Anne Peters’ books. It is also a visceral story of love and violence. Do not pick it up lightly.
Eighteen-year-old Johanna has not had an easy life. She cared for her terminally ill mother until her sister moved back home and arranged hospice care. Now Johanna floats between school, work, and a tense home life with her sister. Within and beyond it all, she is consumed with love for Reeve, a fellow student at her high school. It’s almost the end of the year, though, and they’ve never spoken. When Johanna is roped into tutoring Reeve’s brother, Robbie, she seizes her chance to initiate a relationship. But Johanna’s problems shrink in comparison to Robbie’s and Reeve’s, and Reeve’s rage spills into what we cannot really describe as a romance.
It’s a portrait of an abusive relationship, which is something that is really not talked about enough in terms of teenage relationships or LGBT ones, so I am really glad Peters took on this subject matter. She comments at the back of the book that ‘her aim was to portray teen-dating violence where neither victim nor villain is painted in broad strokes and where redemption is authentic’. Peters cuts no corners in portraying this ongoing pattern of abuse and violence, so be warned. It’s as responsibly and thoughtfully drawn as all of Peters’ other novels; she’s famous for tackling tough young adult material, particularly with LGBT themes, and for doing so with profound respect for teenagers.
Robbie is autistic. I have seen young adult novels handle autism and disability really badly, but Peters presents Robbie as, dare I say it, a person, a person struggling with a horrible homelife. He cops a fair amount of ableist labelling – from his sister and Johanna, too – which he uses self-referentially to an extent, but I know that some of my readers don’t want to encounter terms like “asstard” and such at all, so I thought I’d best tell you.
The queer themes infuse this book, but coming out or coming to terms aren’t really the point, as they are in a lot of GLBT YA. The point is that people’s lives are complicated, abusers and their victims are complicated. Violence begets violence, and loving someone does not staunch that. Johanna’s emergence from this situation is brave, and realistic, and incredibly painful. Peters’ nuanced characterisation wins out here, and her descriptions of Johanna’s profound desire for and belief in Reeve are practically breathtaking.
Sometimes everything is awful, and escapes from horrific pasts and presents do not always succeed. Peters does well in shaping this book in accordance with what will be the experience of all too many of her readers. No character makes it through this book intact, and Johanna loses almost everything before redemption comes at the very end, when she takes it into her own hands. If you want to or think you can handle this book, I recommend it – and Peters’ work in general – highly.