Bully (Fall Away, #1) - Penelope Douglas
I am conducting what I'm shelving as a "New Adult (NA) Experiment". I'm going to work my way through some of the popular New Adult books and see if I can weed out the crap and hopefully find some surprising gems. Here's hoping!

Dear book,



I was ready to like this book. I was ready to be forgiving of the small negatives. I was ready to make excuses for it, try and justify the bad and pretend the good overshadowed it. I don't even remember the last time I wanted to like a book this much. Despite what you may think from my reactions to most books in the NA experiment, I don't just spend my time looking for things to bitch and moan about in these books. I'm looking for the NA books which are different and actually tell a good story, even if it is a romance. This book's description didn't sound like the others that are all virtually identical. So, I wanted to love it. I really tried. But I couldn't. There were too many things. The negatives were flying at me on every page and, after a while, I couldn't ignore them. Which is sad.

We started on reasonably good terms. I really liked the idea of the book for two reasons: 1) I wanted to see how the author handled the subject of bullying and 2) I was intrigued by the promise of a bully being turned into someone we could love. The book didn't really deliver on either of those. For the former, the book started by using a chapter to give us an example of the way Tate had been bullied for several years by a guy who used to be her best friend but turned on her. It was sad, it was awful and I felt sorry for her. Objective achieved. Then we cut to a year later when she comes back from a year studying in France, determined not to let him win this time around. What this book then became was a showdown between two beautiful people who clearly wanted to shag but decided the best kind of foreplay is that where they antagonize the hell out of each other. It wasn't really a story about bullying, it was just about them each trying to get one up on the other.

As for the second reason I was attracted to this book, Jared (the guy) did win me over to some extent. I feel a bit strange about it because, on the one hand, I can see why he behaved like he did and I can find some level of forgiveness for him. But I'm not really able see a) why Tate forgave him so easily and b) why he changed back so abruptly (I don't think Tate's class monologue was a convincing enough reason). The reasons for his behaviour make sense, but his progression back to how he was before and the HEA don't. The main problem - and I shouldn't be surprised by this - is that the author doesn't attempt to humanize him first. That would have made it a better book and a more believable story. But instead of being humanized, Jared is sexualized first. And using his hot body as an excuse for forgiveness didn't work because that's not a good enough reason and I don't find this an attractive description of a man: "I doubt you even wait until the condom's off before forgetting their names." There must be something wrong with me.

But anyway. This stuff wouldn't have been enough for a one star rating on its own. With just this, I would have given at least two stars, maybe even three on a good day. The problem I had, the HUGE fucking problem I had with this book was the protagonist. God, she was the very meaning of insufferable. And her best friend wasn't far behind. On that subject, this seems to be incredibly common in NA books: BBF (Bad Best Friend) Syndrome. It's like a requirement for the protagonist's best friend to encourage them to forget about all the bad stuff a guy has done, just forget that he's a total jerk because he is SO HOT. Jared harassed Tate for years and yet her best friend advises her to get together with him and, when she doesn't, decides to have a go herself!



Forget the best friend, let's get back to the high-and-mighty queen of preciousness herself. Tate views everyone but herself, her parents and Jared with utter disdain. Being inside her head was like waging a war against every other female because of the things they wore, the things they said, and the guys they were with. For one, I feel it is always best to avoid stupid phrases like "queen bee of the mean girls", but it was when she referred to everyone Jared was with as being "slutty" because they were all over him that I felt like someone had really lit my fuse. She walks onto every scene, describing the others as "slutty looking girls". If they weren't sluts, they were bitches or "twits", every woman is an enemy to Tate in this book - even her "best friend" isn't immune. Piper, the girl Jared uses and casts aside, gets the worst of it: "Piper had her face buried in his neck. She looked trashy in her short, tight black dress and heels. Who wore heels to the beach?"



Look, I go to a University that used to be an all female institution. It's not anymore, but there are still currently around two women to every one guy. I know women. Smart women, stupid women, extroverted women, shy women, ambitious women, funny women, geeky women, sporty women, straight women, gay women... and I don't believe that I have ever seen a single woman as vapid, shallow and senseless as all the ones who exist in this novel. They walk around with their breasts bulging out, drooling over men who only love the marvellous Tate (who is, naturally, above all this breast-bulging, drooling business). I guess it's bad that I find myself siding with the antagonist in all this. And don't even get me started on that ridiculous fight in the school corridor between Tate and Piper.

There is so much slut-shaming, woman-shaming and obsessing over virginity in this book. For Tate, her virginity is a gift-wrapped present to be given to the one most deserving, while having sex with multiple guys is shameful. This quote is a particular favourite of mine: "I'd been called a bitch before, and it didn't hurt the way being called a slut did. Being a bitch could be a survival technique. They get respect. There was no honor in people thinking you were a slut." Reading that was a bit like dying a painful, anti-feminist death.

But wait! Just when you thought the guys got to escape Tate's judgement because of their penises, she casts a withering glance over them and their stupid ways. Honestly, she is the most annoying character ever. "The girls had no other interests beside shopping and makeup and the guys here gave me the urge to sanitize my eyeballs after seeing the way they looked at me." For godsake, Ms Precious, go sanitize your eyeballs somewhere we don't have to hear you whining, here you go, use this acid.

Tate's thoughts when Ben came to talk to her and tried to be nice were particularly annoying too. He was really sweet and lovely, didn't judge her on the rumours, and just wanted a conversation. And what is Tate thinking about these niceties? She is inwardly cringing at him because he likes country music. What a moron. Whereas jackass who takes pleasure in humiliating her at least likes "cool" music. Moron. Tate, I hope you fall into a burning ring of fire, down down down with the flames going higher, and I hope you stand by your man until Piper Jolene steals him. Then you'll be all blue eyes crying in the rain, dreaming of what you'll do with a subway token and a dollar tucked inside your shoe. I can't think of a reason to use the words "you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" but I'm going to anyway. And, really, who needs a reason for anything beyond: because tractors are sexy.

And, on that note, I shall depart.