Children's Literature - Myrna Dee Marler
Conservative parents will have many reasons not to like this book for their teenagers. It is about an abusive lesbian relationship; there is quite a bit of graphic lesbian lovemaking. There is violence and death. On the other hand, Peters is writing this novel not to promote gay relationships but to reveal some truths about abusive relationships, including the charisma of the abuser and the neediness of the abused. Johanna is about to graduate from high school and is still a virgin. She has lost both her parents and lives in a garage apartment next to her married sister (who has her own problems trying to carry a baby to term). She is isolated and lonely, but has rich fantasies about Reeve, a violent, unique, proudly lesbian girl from a violent background. Over the course of the novel, Johanna takes quite a lot of abuse, both emotional and physical, but she is so in love and so needy that she accepts it. It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Reeve because of her terrible background, but Johanna finally frees herself even though it breaks her heart. The writing is good and the characters are engaging. Reviewer: Myrna Dee Marler
VOYA - Teri S. Lesesne
Johanna has seen a great deal of loss in her life. Her father and mother are both dead. Now she spends her spare time volunteering at the hospice where her mother died. Johanna thinks that she has nothing else left to lose. She looks forward to graduation although she has no real idea of what to do next in her life. Instead Johanna is consumed with the beautiful and unattainable Reeve. She dreams of the two of them even though Reeve does not know Johanna exists. Fate intervenes when Johanna is asked to help Reeve's brother complete his senior essay. The Reeve of Johanna's dreams is quite different in the real world. Despite Reeve's abusive nature, though, Johanna is determined to make her dream a reality. Peters does not flinch from the tragic and dark nature of an abusive relationship. Reeve, despite her desperate home situation, is a largely unlikeable character. Everyone except Johanna can see that Reeve's actions are indefensible. But love blinds Johanna to the truth until it is almost too late for either young woman to survive. Here is an original story, fraught with violence and, yet, redemption. Readers who know Peters's books will certainly gravitate to this one as well. They trust her to tell the difficult truths; and she delivers just that in this novel. Reviewer: Teri S. Lesesne
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Johanna, 17, watched her mother die while her older sister escaped to college, and she fantasizes about a relationship with Reeve Hartt. Reeve's mother is a junkie prostitute, and her mother's boyfriend, no surprise, physically and sexually abuses Reeve. Reeve is hypersexual and violently angry, and she beats Johanna. The abuse in the Hartt house is so public and over-the-top that real-world children's services would have removed her long before the novel takes place. Everything happens too fast here, with YA tropes—battering, drug abuse, sexual confusion, abandonment—in place of deep character development. Both the plot and pace of Rage are so frenetic that there's no time to feel anything for the characters. The only vivid character is Robbie, Reeve's intelligent, deranged brother. Teens may feel set up, though, when Peters martyrs him. Johanna's fantasy segments are forced instead of sexy, intrusive instead of illuminating. Though Peters exposes girl-on-girl abuse, Janet Tashjian's Fault Line (Holt, 2003) and Chris Lynch's Inexcusable (S & S, 2005) remain better choices.—Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
Love hurts. Dependable Johanna is drawn to mercurial Reeve, whose anger-management issues stem from her abusive home life. To express herself, Reeve hits. Johanna is thrilled just to be near Reeve in all her temperamental glory, even if it means alienating her best friend in the process. Reeve eventually turns her fists on Johanna, who remains loyal, lying and cheating to protect Reeve and her brother. Their relationship falters after Reeve's stepfather kills her mother and brother. From there, Peters rebuilds Johanna's and Reeve's lives as they explore their diverging goals for the future and confrontation of their individual losses of family. With very little back story to help them, readers may find it difficult to establish characters' relationships and histories right at the beginning. Any reader who's ever had a crush, however, will understand Johanna's head-over-heels feelings for Reeve. The subjects of sexuality, abuse and loss are difficult, but the author knows exactly how to move teen characters through them and toward a hopeful ending. The look at dating violence in same-sex relationships makes this book one that meets a need. (Fiction. YA)
Reliable Johanna secretly fantasizes about romantic interludes with wild girl Reeve, but it's only when she agrees to tutor Robbie, Reeve's autistic twin brother, that she actually begins to understand just how troubled her anger-prone crush's life is. Johanna has her own set of problems (her parents are dead, and her relationship with her sister, Tessa, has been strained since Johanna came out), but she is still shocked when she reads Robbie's essay detailing his and Reeve's abusive childhood and by the violence she witnesses outside their shabby home. But as Johanna's romance with Reeve intensifies, so does Reeve's abuse (at a graduation party, she punches Johanna in the face). Reeve's home life may seem extreme—especially an act of violence toward the book's end—but readers will appreciate Peters's (Luna) incisive handling of such ambitious material. Johanna is a well-crafted character, and readers will understand her motivations, even while wishing she would listen to Tessa, who tells her, "You want to be her savior. But the way she treats you, that isn't love." Ages 14—up. (Sept.)
Read an Excerpt
I locate the room on the first floor where Mrs. Goins asked me to meet her. She was desperate, she said. So many seniors on the verge of not graduating, she said. Would I please tutor this one? A special one who needs special help with the senior project, she said.
I guess I'm meant to feel special, but I have my own stuff to finish--like that damn Film Studies class Novak talked me into.
I peek in. The classroom's empty. Did I get the room wrong? I've been losing whole blocks of time lately, spacing constantly. Where does life go when it's lost to you?
My backpack slips off my shoulder and a note falls out of the front pocket.
"I'm dropping Film Studies," Novak wrote.
An old note from the beginning of term. At the time I thought: Thanks. Abandon me, like everyone else has.
I hear Mrs. Goins coming before I see her. She's . . . rustling? Maybe her thighs are rubbing together or something. Since the first of the year, she's put on, like, twenty pounds. A lot of people call her Meaty Loins.
I would never do that.
The person behind Meaty Loins materializes.
"Johanna, this is Robbie Inouye. Robbie, Johanna Lynch."
Oh my God. Kill me now.
Robbie Inouye scares the hell out of me. He might be retarded, or challenged, or whatever terminology you use to dance around the truth. He's definitely messed. His eyes aren't symmetrical, or could it be his head's on crooked? The corners of his mouth are always caked with dried-up spittle and he lumbers, drags his feet like Frankenstein. He's not big. I'm five eight and he's shorter than me, but he seems huge.
Once upon a time, slow-moving Robbie would get jostled in the hall. I'd see people cut in front of him, making him stumble. Then came last November, right before Thanksgiving. I remember because Novak had been dumped by her boyfriend, Dante--again--and it was taking longer than usual to stanch the internal bleeding.
We were in the restroom by the cafeteria. I got her past the point of slitting her wrists by reassuring her that she was an idiot for staying with him. "If I wasn't so fucking irresistible," she hiccuped, swiping at her nose, "I wouldn't attract vermin."
"Exactly," I replied. I was late; I couldn't stay to hold her hand. "I'm better off without the asshole." "Too true." I had a midterm in trig and I'd blown the last quiz.
"Thank you, sweetie." Novak hugged me. "What would I do without you?" She held me so hard I couldn't breathe.
So I'm charging out of the restroom, dodging bodies and wedging through the mob of people exiting the cafeteria. Late bell rings and my class is two flights up. Then I hear this cry, more of a keen or wail. I look over and see a blur of skin, bone, and loose spittle, bared teeth. It's Robbie.
Someone had taken the instrument case he carries around. A guy was swinging it over his head and Robbie was lying on the floor like he'd been jumped. His books and papers had spilled down the stairs and one of his shoes was off.
Without warning, he rose up like Atlantis emerging from the sea, like Goliath in a rage, fists flailing, screeching and bellowing so loud my ears squinched. The guy with the case passed it to another guy, then a girl, a guy, the girl again. Robbie went crazy. He started swinging in all directions, clawing to get that case. He let out this high-pitched hawk screech, along with foam and spit, then busted the girl right in the chops with his fist. I felt the impact as she screamed and dropped the case.
The first guy made the mistake of retaliating for his girlfriend, hooking Robbie's neck from behind. Robbie whirled and smacked the guy's head into a brick wall.
I heard--felt--the crunch of bone.
I don't know why I did it, but the case was only about two feet away and I bent to retrieve it. Robbie grabbed the case and swung it up. The corner smacked me in the chin and slammed me into the stair rail.
His face came inches from my face, then his eyes rolled back into his head and he hauled off and whacked me on the shoulder. I crashed, tumbling down the stairs, feeling vertebrae crush.
My shoulder was dislocated. This was before my sister, Tessa, moved back home, so Novak took me to the Urgent Care Center.
The guy Robbie clobbered had a concussion, and his girl a fat lip, but none of us pressed charges. Unhappily ever after, Robbie plodded the halls and people steered clear. Especially me.
"Robbie, why don't you find a seat?" Mrs. Goins says.
Franken Psycho's case brushes my leg and I jump back.
Before I can get a squeak out, Mrs. Goins lowers her voice and goes, "Thank you for doing this, Johanna. He needs to graduate."
So do I. "Mrs. Goins, my work schedule changed. I just found out today, and now I have to go in at two. Um, every day, I think." My eyes shift to Robbie and I see he's helped himself to the teacher's desk and is rolling in the office chair. He pulls open the top drawer and removes a stapler.
Mrs. Goins looks at me over her granny glasses. "I thought I could count on you."
My face flares. She sponsored the Youth Service Club when I was in it, before Mom got sick._._._._
"You're the first person I thought of." The pleading in her eyes. Or is it desperation?
"I-I guess I can change my schedule back."
She rests her hand on my forearm. "Thank you, Johanna."
From the Hardcover edition.