Fault Line is not an easy book to read. It's raw, gritty and dark, but it's important. It doesn't tell a new story or one we're unfamiliar with. It highlights a situation in a way that really forces the reader to address the effects of how our society has dealt with rape and how it continues to shape how we view the victim. For me, Fault Line really resonated and made me cry. This will be a book that lingers.
Ben meets Ani and is immediately smitten with her. Her blunt and straightforward personality is not something he's used to and causes him to keep on his toes. Much of the book's first half focuses on their romance and relationship. Their first date, awkward feelings, first kiss. It's sweet the way they fall for each other. You can tell they both care for each other deeply and it eventually develops into love. They're just normal teens, doing what normal teens do.
Unfortunately, all of this unravels after Ani attends a party Ben decides not to go to and the consequences of that night changes everyone. At the party, Ani is gang raped by a group of guys and left passed out with no recollection of the event of the night. In the aftermath, she is left broken, a former shell of the girl she used to be, unable to move past the traumatic experience.
Ben and Kate, the friend who was with her at the party, are guilt-ridden as they are plagued with the what-ifs and could-have-beens. Ben blames himself for not attending the party with Ani. Kate blames herself for not keeping a better eye on her best friend. And Ani. Ani blames herself and everyone, and in the process, losses her self-worth and identity.
This book was so incredibly written. Sure Fault Line could have been written from Ani's perspective, but it would have lost Ben's obsession with fixing Ani, his horror of seeing is girlfriend self-destruct and the domino effect it had on his own life and family relationships. His narration is not always comfortable as he says things or does things that he doesn't mean. However, it was so realistic because he's just a kid, trying desperately to protect and help heal Ani.
Ani and Ben's character development is not going to work for everyone. There's no doubt that her and Ben's life spirals out of control. Ani, who was once the talented artist and jewelry creator, barely smiles and suffers from Rape Trauma Syndrome. Ben, who has the promising future as swimmer and a potential scholarship, can no longer muster up the motivation to get in a pool and becomes obsessed. These characters do develop, just in the most heartbreaking way possible.
It's going to confuse some readers and anger others. But it's also going to raise important questions on victim-blaming, a central theme of the novel. Who is to blame for Ani's attack? Is it Ben for not going to the party? Kate for not protecting her friend when she thought something was wrong? Or is Ani the one to blame for consuming alcohol? For making out with guys, table dancing, announcing to the crowd she would hook-up with the guys? Did all those things make her rapable?
These questions don't surprise me and they do show up in one form of another from Ben, Ani herself and the student body. But they are only a distraction from the real issue, because victim-blaming serves only one purpose: it takes the blame away from the one person who deserves it the most, the rapist.
"I heard one of them say something to his friend like 'We're gonna love this ride' when he was going upstairs with her."
This is, unfortunately, how our society works. All one has to do is look at the most recent rape cases in the media. Just think about what happened with the Steubenville, Ohio rape case. The victim-blaming was astounding. "Oh, she was drunk. She doesn't even remember, how does she know she was raped. She was asking for it. She agreed to it." Ani's situation isn't so different.
I think about this book and then I think about all the other women out there whose story I don't know or hadn't heard because she was too afraid or chose not to speak up or the attack was covered up. As a community and society, we generally suck when it comes to crimes against women and seeking justice for victims.
"Although the police are investigating the party, chances are, they won't pursue it."
Instead, we reason it away: Maybe she was confused. She was drunk. She probably wanted it.
"Could've been roofies, though. I've seen chicks act like that when they're buzzing on Special K. There was a bunch of E going around at the party too."
"Ani, it's still considered rape if you weren't fully conscious. You didn't really make those decisions. You have to be sober to consent."
And make excuses: Maybe she had a history of doing what she did? Maybe she was just "one of those girls."
"I'm not really a jump-in-the-sack-after-the-first-month kind of girl."
Blame other parties: Maybe it's just how she was raised. Probably a broken family or the parents weren't involved in her life.
"When you asked me to have sex with you, I thought I should get her opinion on the whole thing. I knew I wanted to, but we'd only been going out for like a month and sometimes my judgement gets a little skewed by your sexy baldness."
"I figured my mom might help me see through all the hormone drama so I could look at things rationally."
Sympathize with the rapist: But the guys who were with her were equally drunk! They didn't know what they were doing because they were wasted, too.
"Yeah, a couple of guys came down talking about the show. They were the ones who called her the hot little Manhole."
(Interesting how they were sober enough to remember it, tell their friends and brag.)
But again, why do those things even matter? How are saying any of these things better than Todd Akin's "Legitimate Rape" comment? It isn't. But this is how things are. This is how society deals with rape cases in the media. We feel like we just don't know enough to call it rape. And while we sit around in our comfortable, familiar skins debating an incident we were miles and worlds away from, victims and their families suffer. This is the reality.
But Fault Line is not a grandiose mystery novel where the main character sets out to discover the truth of that night. Its focus is on how Ben and Ani cope in the aftermath of her attack. It's about a victim struggling to reclaim her herself. It's about feeling powerless with helping the person you love, watching how one situation ruins a person to the point where they aren't the same anymore and might never be again. What do you do? Run away? Tell someone the secret that's not yours to tell? Stand by that person when it seems they don't even want you around anymore? There are no easy answers.
I should warn readers that this book does not have a happy ending. In fact, some will find it very unsatisfying because of its openness. However, I found it very realistic. The road to Ani's recovery would most likely be hard and long and the novel ends with her at her worst. I'd like to think she eventually gets better, but that doesn't always happen in situations like this.
If I have one negative thing to say, it's on the prologue. It didn't think it was necessary and detracted from the final scene in the novel.
This is going to be The Book That Divides. Personal views and experiences are bound to play a factor in how each reader receives Fault Line. Some people are going to love Ani, while others will hate her. Some may question the incident, while others will strongly connect with it. Some are going to question Ben's actions, while others applaud. Either way, Desir has us talking and with a topic that is so very misunderstood, that's never a bad thing.
Highly recommended for older teens and joint reading for younger teens with their parents.