Sometimes you come across a book that, while it has its flaws, has a message that impacts you to the very core. What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton was that book for me today. I started it this morning and finished it this afternoon. Yes, I am Superwoman! (Or I just read at the speed of light.)
Cassidy “Sid” Murphy is your typical 16-year-old girl. She has two best friends, straight A’s, and she’s a cheerleader. She’s not the most popular girl in school, nor is she someone who is remarkably talented at one specific thing. She’s just Sid. She is tall, with fiery red curls, and a very curvaceous body that unfortunately makes her the target of a lot of teasing from the guys (and even girls) in her class. While this is a problem you pick up on at the start of the book, you don’t see how much it really plagues her until later on.
The book begins with Sid going on a ski trip with her high school class. On this trip, she meets an older, very attractive man named Dax Windsor. After flirting and talking with Sid for a bit, he invites her to a party that he says his roommate is throwing at his house. Sid realizes that Dax thinks she’s older than 16 as most men do. However, Dax does not mention anything about her body, leading her to think he’s a good guy. As someone who only receives negative attention from guys, she’s desperate for someone to look at her as something other than just a body. To see HER, and not just her figure. This desperation dispels any rational thought and she agrees to go to the party. When she arrives, there’s no party. There’s no one except Dax who weaves a tale about how the party was called off. He invites her into the house to hang out and watch TV and. . .that’s it. Sid wakes up the next morning alone in a bed, fully clothed, and with no remembrance of what happened to her the night before. But she does notice that one strand of her long, curly red hair is missing.
It doesn’t take long for her to put the pieces together. When she does, it begins a journey down a heartbreaking road filled with self-loathing and bulimia. Sid can’t bring herself to tell anyone what happened. As with many victims of rape, she thinks it was somehow her fault. She starts to distance herself from her friends, becomes an insomniac, and takes up night running which, on top of the bulimia, causes her to lose even more weight. She starts lying to herself, telling herself that she’s fine, that she can pretend nothing ever happened. She stops being honest with herself so that she doesn’t have to be honest with anyone else. As the pounds drop off, she starts to become obsessed with losing just a little more. Just two more pounds. Just five more pounds.
“So I know a lot about what’s going on here. Trust me, I’ve analyzed myself to death. I guess what I don’t know, though, is how to stop it. These feelings, the anxiety, the running, the starving, the bingeing, the puking—I’ve tried to stop it all, but I can’t.
I don’t know how.
I don’t know the answer to that question at all.”
Okay, let’s move on to the slightly happier topic of this book, the beautiful hopeful ray of light that pierced through the darkness of Sid’s life in the form of her love interest. . . . So that’s a bit dramatic but my gosh, Corey Livingston was PERFECTION. Okay, he wasn’t. Which made him amazing. Let me back up. Corey is the loner, low-life, stoner of the school. I know. When I saw that her love interest was a druggie, I was like, “Excuse me?! This girl is a rape victim and you’re going to pair her up with a drug addict??” But I’ll just go ahead and say this before you stop reading this review and write me off as a nut-job. He isn’t really a stoner. It’s simply the label he has been given by the rumor mill of the high school. Yeah, he smokes. But he’s not a pothead. He has his own personal demons but he doesn’t play the “Oh woe is me!” card. He’s selfless but not to the point where he looks like a wimp. He’s got a great sense of humor, he’s cute, and he.can.bake. If Sid ever changes her mind on this boy, I will gladly take him off her hands!
“But, Abby, he’s a fictional character.”
Shhhh, I know. Leave me alone.
One of the things that always irritates me about the romance in some YA books is how the girl feels like the guy has to swoop in on a white horse and save the day. Look, I know that’s a cute idea from Disney movies, but life isn’t a Disney movie. Corey doesn’t jump in and save Sid from herself. He helps her face her problems head-on, but he doesn’t face them for her. He doesn’t push her behind him and sword-fight the dragons Bulimia and Rape. It’s more like he picks her up after those dragons have knocked her down time and time again, hands her the sword, and tells her that he knows she can beat them.
This book isn’t perfect. The subject material is heavy, there is a good bit of language, partying, and crude guys who talk to and about women like they’re pieces of meat. It was frustrating to read, especially knowing that while the story itself is fictional, rape and the after-effects of rape are not. They are glaringly real. All you have to do is look on the news, and I’m sure you’d find stories extremely similar to this one that happen every day. But even though it has its flaws, What Happens Next was a real book on a real issue. It was enlightening yet heartbreaking to see what goes on inside the minds of people who have suffered such a horrendous act of violence. The ending was believable. It didn’t show Sid waking up one morning and saying, “Well, I’m all better!”. But it did show her realizing that she can heal, that she will be okay, and that even though her rapist took so much, he didn’t take her strength.