Title: Again and Again
Author: Ellen Bravo
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication Date: August 11, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
If sexual shenanigans disqualified candidates for Congress, the U.S. would have no government. But what if the candidate was a pro-choice Republican supported by feminist groups—and a college rapist whose secret could be exposed by a leading women’s rights advocate?
Again and Again tells the story of Deborah Borenstein—as an established women’s rights leader in 2010 Washington, DC, and as a college student, thirty years earlier, whose roommate is raped by a fellow student. The perpetrator is now a Senate candidate who has the backing of major feminist groups . . . which puts Deborah in a difficult position. Torn between her past and present, as the race goes on, Deborah finds herself tested as a wife, a mother, a feminist, and a friend.
After reading several books lately, both fiction and nonfiction, that address the crime of sexual assault, I was intrigued by the release of Ellen Bravo's first novel, Again and Again. Bravo has other nonfiction works in her repertoire, but this is her first foray into fiction, and with her background in feminism, work/family balance, and other women's issues, I figured this would make for a unique take on the topic.
As expected, Bravo really nailed the handling of date rape as a societal problem. While her description of the actual rape is harrowing to say the least, I was left especially frustrated while I read about the disciplinary case that the victim brought forth afterwards. Bravo expertly expresses the despair, grief, and fear of rape victims in the aftermath of an attack, and the many roadblocks they often encounter from the judicial system. A lot of important points are made about the right and wrong ways to help a victim. Overall, I think there are few fiction novels that handle this issue in such a realistic and detailed way.
That said, where I feel the novel was lacking is in the relationships between the characters. While a lot of care was taken in the handling of the rape issue, less meticulous crafting is seen in the development of the bonds between the central characters. For example, many of them jump wildly between emotions of love/happiness and anger/sadness within a single scene. This happens a lot between Deborah and her daughter Becca, as well as Deborah and her husband Aaron. A conversation that begins with hugs and kisses and laughter devolves quickly into screams and slammed doors, often without a provocation that is jarring enough to warrant it. While the issues these people are grappling with are indeed sensitive, I just didn't always find their reactions to be wholly believable, or to have the level of subtlety that I'd expect in a real-life interaction.
Where this became a real sticking point for me was in Deborah's martial issues with Aaron. I won't give any spoilers here, but I was left very frustrated by Deborah's inability to accept any blame for their problems. All of their issues were placed squarely on Aaron's shoulders, and as a result, it seems as if Deborah does not grow at all as a character throughout the book. She is in the right, always. Without getting into the details, I thought Aaron's character was certainly wrong on many points, but Deborah was not always completely blameless--and those flaws are never addressed. This feels like a significant oversight in character development.
I'd say my overall reaction is rather middle-of-the-road. While I love how Bravo has addressed the personal. societal, and political implications of sexual assault in this novel, I am less impressed by how the characters interacted and changed. I still think this is an important read if you're interested in the subject matter--you may just need to adjust your expectations of the protagonists.
As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
HERE. And connect with Ellen Bravo on Twitter and her website.