by Kady Cross
To be published
on March 28, 2017
by Harlequin Teen
Note: this review is based on an advanced reader copy.
Synopsis from Goodreads: It's senior year, and Hadley and her best friend, Magda, should be starting the year together. Instead, Magda is dead and Hadley is alone. Raped at a party the year before and humiliated, Magda was driven to take her own life and Hadley is forced to see her friend's attackers in the classroom every day. Devastated, enraged and needing an outlet for her grief, Hadley decides to get a little justice of her own. Donning a pink ski mask and fueled by anger, Hadley goes after each of the guys one by one, planning to strip them of their dignity and social status the way they did to Magda. As the legend of the pink-masked Vigilante begins to take on a life of its own, Hadley's revenge takes a turn for the dangerous. Could her need for vengeance lead her down a path she can't turn back from?
My take: I really think this book had good intentions, but I feel like it also included a lot of mixed messages about rape, violence and relationships between men and women.
First off, if you're sensitive to discussions of sexual assault, please proceed with caution in this review and with this book.
The book's premise is that Hadley's best friend Magda went off with a guy she liked at a Halloween party and ended up being raped by multiple guys, with pictures of her rape later showing up on social media. Despondent after the charges agains the guys got dismissed and that people either blame her for what happened or think it was consensual, Magda commits suicide. (This isn't a spoiler; it's on the back of the book.) Then Hadley decides to avenge Magda's rape and subsequent death.
So my first problem with the story is that one of the people who sort-of-kind-of blamed Magda for getting raped was none other than ... Hadley. Before Magda's suicide, Hadley tells Magda that she was raped because she made "a stupid mistake" and "picked the wrong guy." To give the book the benefit of the doubt, maybe the goal was showing that Hadley's vengeance journey starts out from a place of ignorance about rape. Then again, who would say that to their best friend who was gang raped and is now being slut-shamed?
So Magda is dead and Hadley is distraught. But she's also getting closer and closer to Magda's brother because he's the only one who can understand. They visit Magda's grave together and she's thinking about how good he smells and.... ugh. I could see a romance coming, and to me it felt icky and out of place.
Hadley is also into martial arts and joins a women's self-defense class. I think it's great if women want to learn self-defense. And I'm guessing this stuff is in the book to explain some of the things (fighting and such) that Hadley is able to do as part of her revenge plot. But I also think that some of the ways the self-defense classes are framed are problematic. Hadley says: "If Magda has learned how to protect herself, maybe it would've helped."
To me, that sounds judgmental. Yes, maybe a self-defense class could prevent a rape, but spending so much time on this class and having Hadley say that about her friend also seems to me to suggest that women have an obligation to learn self-defense and fight back rather than expect not to be raped. And if you don't learn to fight back or don't manage to fight a rapist off, that's on you. I don't agree.
So, onto the revenge plot, which for me also had a bunch of issues, mostly that it glorified the exact kind of anger and sexual violence that the book seems to want to condemn. Hadley finds one of Magda's rapists passed out at a party, and decides to get some revenge. I have no issues with what she actually does (spoiler) writing "rapist" on his forehead in lipstick and taking pictures for social media (spoiler) but before that she also thinks about raping him. WHAT?!?! Finally she decides, "I couldn't rape him. Even if it were possible, I wouldn't."
Hadley continues to take revenge on the rapists, but her violent thoughts and actions also seem to drive her into her arms of Magda's brother. Yes, that relationship continued to develop and it made me uncomfortable. Things hit a low point when she goes to his house and says "I know you probably saw video of what happened last night." (One of her revenge plots was filmed.) He says "you're reckless and brave and ... so fucking incredible" and grabs her and starts making out with her. Watching her take revenge on his sister's rapists is making him hot for her? I guess they're perfect for each other.
Finally, the rapists do get what's coming to them. Not because of Hadley, but (spoiler) because a group based on Anonymous (the hacktivists) releases video of the rape. (spoiler) So that was good at least.
For me, Vigilante was a mixed bag. It did offer what (to me) seemed like positive messages about female empowerment. But I also thought there was also a lot of weirdness there, stuff that made it hard for me to get behind the entirely of the book's message.