As I work my way through my reading list I am making a point to read all of the YA novels while I am in the process of writing because they remind me what it was like to be in high school–or at least how we perceive it was, because my high school experience was nothing like Regina Afton’s in Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers.
First things first, this is a horrible title for what a punch-in-the-gut kind of book this novel is. I thought I was going to read a fluffy book about a girl who has fallen from the graces of her friends and struggles to find her place among the cliques at school in a similar fashion to the movie, Mean Girls. But this book makes that movie look like a kindergarden scuffle.
The book opens to Regina being the designated driver at an out-of-control high school party, the kind that you always hear about happening but I’m pretty sure never actually happened when I was in high school. Kids are passed out drunk, selling pills, having sex with everyone and anyone, and Regina has to be sober for it. She makes it clear that she doesn’t like these parties, even when she does drink, but only participates because that’s what you do when you’re Anna’s best friend–Anna being the queen bee at school.
When Regina goes looking for Anna to take her home, she finds her passed out in the den with Anna’s boyfriend, Donnie, just hanging out–wasted. Regina and Donnie don’t get along well and in a moment of depravity, Regina finds Donnie on top of her and his hands wandering up her skirt. She is able to escape before he rapes her, but the damage is done. She runs away, down the street, disoriented and in shock, and finds herself in front of Kara’s house who advises her not to say anything to Anna, the police or her parents, because who would believe her?
What follows is the ousting of Regina from her friends, the Fearsome Fivesome, because Kara decided to tell Anna how Regina had sex with Donnie. Regina is forced to then endure her total ruination at Hallowell High while dealing with the trauma of almost being raped. Her only salvation is Michael, a kid she helped ruin before and after his mother’s death. But he hates her for what she and Anna did to him, and to his friend Liz who Regina discovers, tried to kill herself over all of the abuse that Regina helped dish out.
The most striking aspect of this story is how the protagonist is not redeemable in the least for the first half of the novel. She was a bully herself and is now enduring the same horrible things that she did others. In a way, it is its own sick retribution. But the fact that Regina was almost raped and is enduring this torture because Anna doesn’t want to hear the truth makes this whole scenario absolutely sick and twisted–and even Regina’s former victims can’t find any satisfaction in watching their former abuser suffer because of the horrible experience she is being forced to live with on top of the school-day torture.
At times the torture that Regina endures reaches a level of sickness and depravity that I wasn’t sure I could keep reading. The girls trick Regina into meeting in a storage closet, then proceed to lock her in–with her attempted rapist. Her and Donnie are stuck together and he takes this opportunity to try and attack her again because after all, she ruined his life too. Anna will have nothing to do with him and he is enduring the same torture that Regina is–except he wasn’t almost raped. It was at this point in the book that I was near tears and felt sick for Regina, and thinking, what the hell are they going to do to her next?
But Regina refuses to take it lying down which leads to a very interesting look at the old saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” She starts getting back at her attackers in ways that in the moment feel so good, so satisfying, but as a reader, you know this won’t end well. This isn’t going to solve the problems, it will just make them so much worse.
The best part about this book is how complicated it makes the relationship between Regina and the reader. You sympathize with her because she is seriously troubled and has endured horrible things. But you don’t like her because she was, and because of her actions in the face of torment, is clearly still a horrible person. Her problems can’t be fixed by saying, “I’m sorry.” But by the end of the story, Regina is beginning to redeem herself. She takes the full force of the Fearsome Fivesome in order to save Michael from the same torture.
My biggest critique of this book is the ending. It is abrupt and anticlimactic. But there is still that feeling that things will be alright. Except they won’t. Because Regina still almost got raped–twice. And the school bullies won’t stop harassing other people because they can’t get to her. There is no solution here–only a stalemate.
But in light of my own thesis, this novel brings up a number of great things to keep in mind. My bully? She has to have humanity. My victim? Has to have enough drive to push back in order to stay interesting. And everyone has to be human–which means flaws and virtues for all.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book because of the narrative structure, the compelling action of the character, and the complexity of Regina. But it’s hard to enjoy the content of a story like this because it’s absolutely atrocious what these character do to each other.
And for the record, I started this book and finished in the same day. I could not put it down. Definitely worth a read for YA fans.