Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Review: Fault Line by Christa Desir
Title: Fault Line
Author: Christa Desir
Rating: 4 Stars
For all that I live in a progressive, diverse community in the Northeast, this is still a town where nasty letters against the Gay Straight Alliance make the quarterly report and high school boys laugh at the thought that a girl wearing a short skirt isn't "asking for it." Needless to say, when a novel about rape is published and begins to garner mixed reviews, I am curious. Fault Line is a dark, gritty read, but I don't just use those terms to describe its subject matter. Desir's novel is physically uncomfortable, from the situations she describes to the lack of resolution by the end. Fault Line isn't a love story. It isn't a novel about a girl who becomes raped but finds romance to heal her. It isn't a story of a teenager who looks for help and digs herself out of the dark hole that rape has propelled her into. In fact, it's just the opposite.
When Ani moves into Ben's neighborhood, his entire world is turned upside down. Confident, sarcastic, and fiercely independent, Ani is nothing like the simpering females who fight for his attention. An excellent swimmer and handsome teen to boot, Ben has it all going for him and now, with Ani by his side, his life is perfect. Until, that is, Ben receives a frantic call from Kate, one of Ani's close friends, informing him that his girlfriend is at the hospital. Informing him that at the party he skipped out on last night, Ani was gang raped. Informing him that when Kate and Ani went to put together a rape kit at the hospital, the doctors needed to perform an ultrasound on Ani. Informing him that the boys who raped Ani left a lighter inside her.
Utterly distraught and blaming himself for Ani's predicament, Ben doesn't know what to do. And, the more and more he hears about what happened at the party the night Ani was raped, the more and more the lines blur. Ani asked for it. Ani danced on top of tables. Ani wasn't that drunk. Ani got off on a lighter in front of the group of guys she voluntarily went upstairs with. Yet, despite these rumors, Ben can see Ani disintegrate before his eyes. Suddenly, the creative, strong, and humorous girl Ben fell in love with has become a shell of her former self, refusing to reveal the truth of her rape to her mother, smothering herself in over-sized sweatshirts, and hiding from the barbs sent her way.
Ani - who cannot remember what happened the night she was raped, who does not know if her behavior was the product of date rape drugs or mere intoxication - begins to lose sight of herself. From the strangers around her to the close friends she once had, everyone ceases to see Ani for the brilliant girl she is, instead focusing on her assault. Needless to say, this is all Ani begins to see as well. Within a matter of weeks, Ani has emerged from her shell, convinced that all she is good for is sex. Where Fault Line shines, in my opinion, is in creating a destructive, alien, and unfathomable mechanism for Ani to cope with the loss of freedom and choice she suffered. Unlike most heroines who push away the world, converging in on themselves or pursuing suicidal tendencies, Ani becomes increasingly active sexually.
Ben, who witnesses first-hand how Ani spirals out of control, is rendered speechless by her decisions. While, on one hand, he respects Ani and understands that it is her choice to do as she pleases with her body, she is still his girlfriend. More than that, though, Ben is fueled by his own guilt at leaving her to attend that fateful party without him by her side and, as such, he aches to help her in any way he can. While Ani's sexual conquests increase, Ben phones a therapist, attends a healing group, and speaks to rape victims about their experiences.
In dealing with an issue as delicate as rape, Fault Line never falters. Not only does Desir emphasize the importance of putting together a rape kit, but she also covers a variety of organizations available to help both victims and their loved ones. Moreover, despite the blurred lines concerning Ani's rape and the unconventional - and, frankly speaking, unlikable - methods she resorts to in order to cope with her assault, Desir never places the blame of Ani's rape on Ani, Kate, or Ben. While all three blame themselves, Desir firmly stands her ground that rape is an action that only the rapists themselves are at fault for, though unfortunately they rarely suffer the consequences.
Fault Line is definitely not a book for most readers. Its ending is open-ended, leaving this issue largely unresolved, but it makes a strong statement nevertheless. For me, however, the most important decision that Desir makes with her debut is in molding Ani into a victim whose actions do not inspire sympathy. Whether it be in media, films, or novels, the symbol for rape is a downtrodden young girl whose vulnerability is a cry for help. More often than not, though, true pleas for help are messy, disgusting affairs. While Ani, doubtless, makes a series of mistakes following her rape, instead of criticizing those decisions, Desir enables us to see to the pain Ani hides beneath the facade of a slut. Young Adult rarely delves far enough in creating heroines who defy the lines of the boxes they are placed in the way Fault Line did, which enabled this novel to exceed my expectations in delivering a gritty read. Told from the perspective of Ben, Desir's debut is a brilliant, but difficult, story to read; one that I hope will leave readers thinking for the days to come.