Rape Culture and a Romance Novel

A couple of days ago, one of my Twitter followers asked me if I'd seen this post on BookRiot.com: Five Novels That Illustrate Rape Culture.

Easy has made bestseller lists and favorite book lists and book boyfriend lists, and the thrill of those achievements has been gratifying and incredible. But seeing it on this list, among these outstanding, influential books, was the most satisfying moment I've had as an author. Recognition of this sort was everything I wanted for Easy when I wrote it, and everything I feared it would never achieve - because I'm a fallible human artist trying to translate emotions into words, and I relate to and interpret others more from observation than interaction, and most of my communication with the world is done through fiction. Romantic fiction.

I believe a reader takes what she needs to take from a book, an exchange as dependent on what she brings to the experience of reading as what I've attempted to disclose inside those pages. I can't suggest my book to some readers while telling others it might not work for them, and that's a good thing because I would probably be wrong as often as I'd be right. Still. I wrote a coming-of-age romance with the issue of sexual assault at its heart. For some, that was an unorthodox choice, but I couldn't have written it any other way.

In Spring 2005, I took a Young Adult Literature course as part of my English degree requirements. That semester, we read and analyzed thirteen books, one of which was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Six years old, it was already a celebrated classic for its heartbreaking portrayal of acquaintance rape and the arduous recovery process a survivor endures when she is not believed.

As a rape survivor, I was not thrilled with its inclusion on that syllabus. Appreciative of its existence? Yes, absolutely. But my feelings about reading it were a solid nope.

Years before, I'd sat in a theater, so nauseated I couldn't move, watching The Accused  (1988). That film introduced the argument - through the venue of a major motion picture - that there was no such thing as "asking for it." Serious discourse on the issue of what constitutes sexual assault arose and deep-seated presumptions in the minds of many were forever altered because of that film… but it traumatized me.

Having dodged rape-focused books and films ever since, I'd grown so skillful at that avoidance that I was barely aware of doing it. But here was this assignment, and as a conscientious student, there was no option to skip over it. So I gritted my teeth and I read Speak… and it moved me and helped me at a level I never expected.

Still, I was left with this question: How many other survivors steer clear of books and movies having to do with rape?  Because even though I felt validated and voiced through Anderson's book, I hadn't come to it willingly, and I never would have.

As a reader, I often venture outside the romance genre, but a good story with strong romantic elements and an ending that leaves me smiling tearfully has always been my favorite. When Jacqueline brought me her story, it was all shame and not telling and untrue rumors and a breakup and behavior changes that no one understood. Lucas was a shadowy savior in a parking lot. I did not want to write it. I could not in good conscience write a book that I would never willingly read.

Then Jacqueline returned with a more developed Lucas - someone with buried pain of his own - and I saw my opportunity to write a love story with the romance-essential happy ending. I had one central message to impart: It wasn't your fault. Between bouts of typical writer insecurity I felt sure that Easy could convey that message to survivors through a story that readers like me would read, and I wanted them to have it.

Thank you to BookRiot.com and journalist Nicole Froio for including Easy on this amazing list.