by Amanda Maciel
Summary: 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.
Source: I purchased a paperback
Tease is a controversial and hard to read novel for some. It’s about a girl who commits suicide after being bullied in high school, but it’s not written from the victim’s perspective. Instead, we get a completely unconventional point of view that can be hard to stomach.
For me, Tease wasn’t hard to read and I felt like Sara was a good character because she was realistic, even if she wasn’t the most likable. She had a huge part in the bullying of Emma Putnam, but she didn’t feel like it was her fault. Some reviews have called her a sociopath for not having any remorse, but I feel like that’s far from the truth and perhaps the point of the book. Sara wasn’t sorry because she didn’t realize that she was responsible. She felt like “everyone” thought Emma was a slut. She thought she was just chiming in and maybe it was mean, but it wasn’t, like, enough to make someone commit suicide. She felt like her teen years were hard and Brielle teased her, so if she can make it through without killing herself, even though it sounds tempting sometimes, then what was Emma’s problem? (It seems so awful, but I know I can’t be the only person who went to high school and totally remember that there were girls that “everyone” thought were sluts and we/everyone else just all kept repeating it.)
Sara’s point of view was one that I enjoyed because I thought the author showed quite well how those seemingly small things can affect someone and I think, towards the end, Sara began to realize exactly how she had a hand in her situation. At first, she blamed Emma for causing such a ruckus, stealing her boyfriend, and ruining her life. Like many teenagers, she didn’t’ realize that her own actions played a part and that she was part of her own problem. Also, the distance from Brielle over the summer made her realize how much Brielle influenced her.
Like Sara frequently said in the book, it wasn’t like they beat Emma up or anything. They didn’t corner her and punch her or physically harm her, so how can that really be bullying? I love that the author chose to create the storyline because I think it’s such a natural one. We don’t always see the name calling or subtle passive-aggressive comments as bullying, though it is. Girls are brutal. Women constantly shame one another for a variety of things. In high school, the slut shaming is endless. It’s normal for there to be girls that are just known as sluts. And the ones who aren’t? They must be teases. It feels normal because it’s so widespread, but Sara and Brielle took it even further by never letting up and creating awful schemes to embarrass or otherwise terrorize Emma. And even though Sara didn’t come up with the schemes, her very participation was why she ended up on trial.
The book also brings up how girls who strive to be popular can do things they feel somewhat bad about in order to fit in. Sara felt alive, like she had close friends, like she was fitting in, but also felt like she wasn’t normally someone important. How could she have such an impact on people? And as she constantly followed in Brielle’s footsteps, she participated in things she wasn’t always okay with, but brushed it off in order to not cause a scene. She did things she wasn’t ready for because she was afraid of being called a tease and because she thought it would help her fit in better. It’s so normal for teens to fall into those behaviors without realizing how quickly it turns sour. I think it’s also normal for girls to attack each other for stealing boyfriends and cheating instead of blaming the very guys that are playing along, which is also a major problem. I love that the book kind of brings it all up. It’s a murky world we are living in.
I highly recommend this book, though it seems like it was not a hit for some people. I think it can be difficult to read a book where the main character seems to not realize how awful she was being, but it’s easy to pretend like you are never mean to people or that things you’ve done aren’t a big deal, which is the point. The world isn’t black and white. The victims aren’t always picture perfect and the villains aren’t always evil and awful. People can do some terrible things without evil intent. This one is must read for book clubs and discussion purposes! It brings up so many great points.
Side Note: I see so many reviews that were negative because of the slut shaming, the high school lingo, or the fact that Sara had no remorse for much of the book. I get it, but I feel like maybe I was either terrible as a teenager and went to school with equally awful teens or people just don’t let themselves remember their own teen years correctly (and I think it’s a mixture of both). We did slut shame. There were girls that I knew literally nothing about, but I just “knew” they were sluts because “everyone” knew that. I’ve had awful rumors spread about me for being a slut (even when I wasn’t even sexually active), stealing boyfriends (even when I didn’t realize they were taken), being a tease (because I wouldn’t mess around), etc. I remember wanting to move shortly after starting at a new school because of rumors. However, I also made fun of people in order to avoid being singled out for not laughing. I’ve made awful comments about people that probably weren’t even true and perpetuated similar rumors to the ones spread about me except maybe I thought they were true about other people. I actively hated people I knew nothing about because I heard from someone else that something happened and they were bitches or whores or whatever. The things we did and said to each other were awful. And that was over a decade ago! And those things are STILL happening in high schools all over the globe. Once high school is over, I think a lot of people turn into regular people (though not everyone) and it can be difficult to imagine ever being petty or insecure, even though it’s something so many teens go through. I love the thought that went into creating the book and it’s definitely no argument that the author had a ton of material to work with. Girls bully each other everyday, but would NEVER identify with being a bully or even remotely accept that they were bullying. Because they would see their behavior as normal.
It baffles me that people seem oblivious and bring up all of the awful things in the book without realizing that the author was using reality to create a story and unfortunately, reality includes girls being generally terrible to one another for social reasons and creating a cycle of never ending slut shaming.