Author: Amanda Maciel
In short: thought-provoking and certainly creative, but sort of falls flat in the end.
Suicide, slut-shaming, and bullying content warnings. And spoiler warnings!
Goodreads: 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.
During 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 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.
In this powerful debut novel inspired by real-life events, Amanda Maciel weaves a narrative of high school life as complex and heartbreaking as it is familiar: a story of everyday jealousies and resentments, misunderstandings and desires. Tease is a thought-provoking must-read that will haunt readers long after the last page.
Tease definitely addresses some important issues, namely, bullying, suicide, and our society’s tendency to slut-shame. The story follows Sara Wharton, a high school junior who’s been criminally charged for harassment of a sophomore at her school, Emma Putnam. Sara’s learning what it’s like to be hated by society—she’s jeered at in the grocery store, ostracised by her former friends, and her life seems totally destroyed. Between the meetings with her lawyer and her therapist, we see flashbacks to Sara’s junior year, where it all began. Emma’s status as a ‘slut’ was established soon after she transferred to Sara’s school, and she starts to cosy up to Sara’s boyfriend. Sara and her best friend Brielle are both furious at Emma, and guided mostly by Brielle’s dogged ideas, they start off a chain of events that end in one horrific moment—Emma, found dead in her home.
What’s most important about this book to me is the portrayal of Sara. She’s not exactly an unlikeable protagonist, but more of a realistic one, with selfish actions, a tendency to jealousy, bitterness, and teenage resentment…the whole package. In her ‘war’ with Emma, her own weaknesses and insecurities are exposed. The whole reason she starts picking on Emma in the first place (ignoring all the egging-on that Brielle did) was her insecurities when it came to her boyfriend Dylan. More than any malice, it’s self-doubt and fear that motivated Sara’s actions, and I think that was shown really well. The fact that the book itself is named for Sara’s insecurity just adds on to that. It’s what everyone’s always saying, that the bully only attacks you because you make them feel weak, or you make their own insecurities stand out. But, Sara’s portrayal is also where Tease failed.
From the start of the novel Sara is unrepentant. She doesn’t think she’s in the wrong, because the names she called Emma were all true. In fact, she blames Emma for committing suicide and bringing all of the trouble crashing down upon them. Sara sees this as the ‘weak’ way out, and when everyone’s hating on her, she explicitly refuses to think about suicide—because she wouldn’t ever choose to be that weak. That was all very realistic, but her ideas in the beginning versus her ideas at the resolution show a drastic change that isn’t properly portrayed. It’s not explained why her feelings changed, it’s not explained how she as a person changed, and that’s where the book is lacking. The whole point of a story like this is the bully’s realisation that what they did was wrong, and Tease just doesn’t bring that out.
Overall, it’s definitely thought-provoking, moving (I cried. No surprises there.), and a really interesting idea, but it built up to nowhere and wound up falling short.
I received a free galley of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.