BOOK REVIEW: Vigilante by Kady Cross

BOOK REVIEW: Vigilante by Kady Cross

Harlequin Teen
May 2017
Paperback, $14.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult

4/10

Trigger warning: Rape

 

It’s senior year, and Hadley and her best friend, Magda, should be starting the year together. Instead, Magda is dead and Hadley is alone. Raped at a party the year before and humiliated, Magda was driven to take her own life and Hadley is forced to see her friend’s attackers in the classroom every day. Devastated, enraged and needing an outlet for her grief, Hadley decides to get a little justice of her own.

Donning a pink ski mask and fueled by anger, Hadley goes after each of the guys one by one, planning to strip them of their dignity and social status the way they did to Magda. As the legend of the pink-masked Vigilante begins to take on a life of its own, Hadley’s revenge takes a turn for the dangerous. Could her need for vengeance lead her down a path she can’t turn back from?

 

Besides me, and Magda’s family, no one really seemed to believe she’d been raped at all. In fact, the boys who did it said she’d wanted to have sex with all four of them, and the entire school believed them, even though Magda hadn’t so much as gone out on a date with a guy before that night. It was easier to believe a teenage girl would want her first time to be with multiple partners than it was to believe four popular boys were capable of rape.

Vigilante is an ambitious story about rape culture, friendship, and revenge. Unfortunately it doesn’t live up  to the hype or the promise.

There are a lot of good points and discussions that need to be had. About victim shaming, and how it has become something of a societal norm, and about how ridiculous is to blame someone for something that happens to them.

“I’ll tell him,” I said. “He’ll be okay with it when I tell him that I think it would be good for me—help me work out the guilt I feel for Magda being raped.”
My mother winced. The R word always made her intensely uncomfortable. “It wasn’t your fault. You know how much I liked Magda, but she ought to have known better than to be drinking at a party with that many boys around.”

Detective Davies started the class by talking about nonviolent ways for girls to protect themselves. She talked about not leaving your drink unattended at a party, and not drinking anything that you hadn’t poured yourself.
“You know,” one of the girls said, “it would be a lot easier if boys didn’t act like assholes.”
The detective nodded. “It would be. No matter what happens, you’re not to blame for any of it. Unfortunately, the unfairness of the situation is that there are boys, and men, out there who will hurt you if they can. And until society stops allowing that, women have to look out for themselves and each other. That’s one of the most important things—you girls looking out for each other.”

Today I want to talk to you about preventing sexual assault. Do you know the best way to prevent a rape from happening? And no, it’s not keeping your legs closed.”
Silence. We all stared at her as her gaze wandered over the crowd.
“The best way to prevent sexual assault or rape is to not assault or rape anyone.”
I swear to God every female in the place went nuts at that moment. The shouts and applause were deafening. There were guys shouting and clapping too, but it was mostly just the girls. I’d never felt so much a part of something huge as I did in that moment.

“By the same token, I want you to imagine the worst thing that has ever happened to you. Now, imagine that everyone in this room knows about it, but instead of giving you sympathy and support, they’re laughing at you, and leaving messages on your social media that what happened was all your fault—that you deserved it. Can you imagine telling someone it’s their fault their mother died of cancer? That they’re to blame for a traffic accident simply because they were sitting in a car? No, you probably can’t.
“As a society, we tend to blame the victim of a sexual assault. We say they asked for it because they wore something revealing, or because they’d been drinking.”

But something about the message gets lost when the main character herself seems so quick to judge people on their genders and tar all men with the same brush.

I probably should’ve been more scared than I was, but what actually went through my head was sadness that so many guys thought this way. Where did it come from? How could I have thought that I could ever fight it? It was like a disease. A worldwide epidemic of men and boys who thought that violating a woman was not only their right, but a pleasure.

She also contemplates punishing people by enacting the same violation upon them, and you know what they say about “an eye for an eye”.

I could have sexually humiliated Jason the week before. He’d been passed out. I could’ve stuck something in his butt. I could’ve left him naked. There was part of me that very much wanted to assault him, to make him feel like Magda had when she saw the photos they posted of her. But when given the opportunity, I simply couldn’t do it.

She goes out of her way to punish the guys who hurt her friend (and other rapists besides) but then she turns around and lumps comparatively simple things into the “too hard” basket.

Zoe told every girl we talked to about the self-defense course. A few of them seemed interested, though a couple wrinkled their noses at the idea of violence. I didn’t bother trying to convince them that the class was about protecting yourself rather than hurting someone. They obviously didn’t think anything bad would ever happen to them. I wasn’t going to be the one to tell them they were wrong.

And she is so set against the majority of men for most of the book that she makes a conscious effort to not think about the wrongs perpetuated by people in general.

“Don’t apologize, I’ve seen worse. Much worse. It’s amazing how some women distort and defile the title of motherhood.”
I didn’t want to know. Over the last year I’d vilified men because of the ones who hurt my friend. I was just starting to realize that there were some good ones out there. I didn’t need to hear about the rotten women.

And some thoughts, although the sentiment can be found, are expressed in some very strange ways with wording that makes it sound like Hadley is sorry she has not been assaulted as yet.

How many of them had been told whatever happened to her was her fault, or she’d been asking for it? Had the woman walking toward me been assaulted at a bar? Maybe the next one had been harassed at her work. Or another might have been told she could pay a debt with sex. How many women did I see every day who had been assaulted in some way—used as objects—and been made to feel like somehow they were to blame for it?
I hadn’t been. Not yet. What a sad realization. Sadder was knowing that it would probably happen to me more than once before my life was over. Someone would at least try to violate me just for the sheer fact that I had a vagina instead of a dick.

 

This story did have a lot of potential, given that Hadley starts out victim blaming as well, and theoretically grows as a person and becomes more invested in the issue and aware of where she was wrong.

“Those pricks deserved it. You shouldn’t have to keep paying for a stupid mistake.”
Magda stopped suddenly, under the shade of a huge tree. “What mistake?”
I stared at her. Was she medicated? “Going off with Drew Carson at that party.”
“You’ve never gone off with a guy before?”
She knew I had. “You know what I mean. You just picked the wrong guy.”
“Was I supposed to know that?”

The big problem for this reader was that the idea of Hadley growing as a person was just that without any evidence in the writing or the story progression. Throughout the entire story she is selfish, judgmental, rash, impulsive, angry, and jumps to all kinds of conclusions, and there really isn’t much here to endear her to readers.

While there was the underlying theme that women need to stick together, men should be the ones to stop rape (by not raping anyone), and society needs to reassess the way it deals with these situations to abolish rape culture, it was overwhelmed by the idea that two wrongs make a right and that every man is horrible, possessive, and ruled by his penis. 

The discussion does need to be had, and the more books about this, the more likely that will happen. But this one was executed poorly, and had too many negatives to classify this as a book that encourages the discussion well. 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Vigilante by Kady Cross

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