ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers is not a beach read. If that’s what you’re looking for—turn elsewhere, and return to this book in the fall. But if you’re looking for a book that gives a compelling, gritty account of what it can be like to navigate the world as a young woman—get this novel immediately. You will not be able to put it down.
The story moves through time to tell the story of teen Romy Grey, who lives in the insular town of Grebe with her mother, Alice Jane, and her mother’s new partner, Todd, who has joined their family since Romy’s father, a heavy drinker, left the scene.
This is a book about mothers and daughters, how girls relate to girls, and how sexual violence, bullying, and the ensuing silence, denial, and shame can rob a young woman of her power, her faith in herself, and in her own body. In one passage, Romy learns from her love interest, Leon (her “good thing”), that his sister is having a baby. “I hope it’s not a girl,” she thinks.
Romy has reasons for feeling that way. The book opens with her memory of being sexually assaulted by the town’s golden boy—the son of the local sheriff no less. The unjust way in which the incident is handled forms the backdrop for future events that see Romy shunned by her peers, branded a liar, and betrayed by people who should have protected her. These are all things we hope never happen in real life—but do. (Consider, as one example, the story of Rehtaeh Parsons.)
In a telling scene, Romy, who works at a diner outside of town to escape the eyes of Grebe, talks to a fellow waitress, Annette, who is older and a single mother. Annette is explaining her fears after Romy’s one-time friend, Penny Young, goes missing following a year-end party at the lake:
“You’re right,” she says after a minute. “You’re not my daughter, but I’ll be damned if I don’t worry about you girls…I worry about you when you wander off and now I’m worried about this Penny Young, who I don’t even know, because I have a daughter. Anytime something bad happens to a woman close to me, it’s how I think. I have a daughter.”
“You have a son.”
She shakes her head. “It’s not the same.”
The words spoken by Annette: “I have a daughter” chilled me. This book is all about the ways—complicated, unfair, and tangled—that having (or being) a son is “not the same.” I am decades older than Romy—but I was once a teenage girl—and now I have a daughter. I am glad there are books like this to reflect how tough life can be for girls—even for strong girls like Romy—and to shine a light on how we might do better.
ALL THE RAGE is expertly plotted and paced. It’s not an easy or perfect book, but it’s an important one. The writing is precise, economical, and the dialogue crackles. I believed in the town of Grebe, I believed in Romy, and I believed in the large cast of characters. While the world depicted is no walk on the beach, Romy is a resourceful, smart, independent heroine and the book is ultimately hopeful.