Book Review, Fiction, Review, Young Adult

Book Review: ‘Unleaving’, by Melissa Ostrom

5.00 avg. rating (99% score) - 4 votes

About the Author:

Melissa Ostrom teaches English literature at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Beloved Wild is her YA debut. She lives in Batavia, New York, with her family.

About the Book:

In a book that is both urgent and timely, Melissa Ostrom explores the intricacies of shame and victim-blaming that accompany the aftermath of assault.

After surviving an assault at an off-campus party, nineteen-year-old Maggie is escaping her college town, and, because her reporting the crime has led to the expulsion of some popular athletes, many people—in particular, the outraged Tigers fans—are happy to see her go.

Maggie moves in with her Aunt Wren, a sculptor who lives in an isolated cabin bordered by nothing but woods and water. Maggie wants to forget, heal, and hide, but her aunt’s place harbors secrets and situations that complicate the plan. Worse, the trauma Maggie hoped to leave behind has followed her, haunting her in ways she can’t control, including flashbacks, insomnia and a sense of panic. Her troubles intensify when she begins to receive messages from another student who has survived a rape on her old campus. Just when Maggie musters the courage to answer her emails, the young woman goes silent.

Review of ‘Unleaving’, by Melissa Ostrom:

I think it’s safe to say that living in a world where rapes are a thing of the past is a priority for most people.  The challenges are complex and multi-faceted, so the solution must be, as well.  One of the things I have been discussing on the blog is the issue of discussing rape in a way that respects the dignity of the person who was raped.  She (since most rape victims are female, I will be using “she” but let’s not forget the men who are raped, as well) isn’t someone that should be seen one-dimensionally or defined only as a “rape victim”.  In Maggie, her main character, Ostrom does just that.  While the weight of the trauma weighs heavily on her, Maggie is also so many other things: she is a daughter, a niece, a friend, and a reader, amongst others.

Although there are references to what happened, enough to warrant a trigger warning, the references are not meant to shock or upset; rather, they are there as part of Maggie’s journey to (hopefully…) healing from the trauma, as much as one can heal.  I feel this is so important in the conversation about going from #metoo to #neveragain: not focusing on the horror of the rape itself, but on supporting those who are raped.  However riveting the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why was, the horror of the rape scene served more to desensitize, in my opinion, while the original book served so much better to touch the reader’s heart.

Unleaving is also a great read because of the writing itself.  The flow and the pace are pretty flawless.  The writing is engaging and relatively light despite the heaviness of the topics touched upon (rape, mental health, social isolation, and incest).  The cast of characters is engaging, and we are drawn into their world in a natural, organic way.  It feels like without trying to make any specific point or statement, Ostrom is making some very important and long-lasting ones.

I was a little uncomfortable with the ending—and please skip this paragraph if you want no spoilers.  I will try to keep it vague, but I can only be so vague in a review, after all.  I felt that another character in Unleaving was being pressured to go to the authorities and file charges against a rapist.  While I applaud those who have the strength to go through this process and support them as much as I can, I feel that no one should ever be pressured to go to the authorities.  It is a lot to ask, and honestly, no one but the person herself can determine what her path of healing will look like.  After all, there is so much other work that needs to be done to build a world where #metoo becomes #neveragain, in which everyone can contribute.  So let’s accept the different paths that people choose to take after living through a traumatic event and support them by creating a harassment-free world.

Final Thoughts

A timely and important must-read that will help readers understand a little bit more what someone who has been raped goes through.  I hope more of these types of books are not just written, but also turned into movies.

5.00 avg. rating (99% score) - 4 votes

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