Thursday, June 30, 2016

Community and betrayal

Summer break provides both the opportunity and the crushing responsibility to read many more books than I get to during the school year, which can lead to some interesting juxtapositions. In the past few weeks, I've read (among others) Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman; Missoula: Rape and the Justice System, by Jon Krakauer; and All-American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. 

In OITNB (if you aren't a netflixer, as I am not), pretty white Piper gets busted on drug charges and spends a year in prison; in AAB, a high school is divided over a brtual police beating of an innocent black teenager, and in Missoula -- well, Missoula is harrowing non-fiction about campus rape and its consequences.The only obvious link between these three is the presence of law enforcement, but in reading all three in rapid success, it made me think about how essential community trust is for all people. 

In the first book, Piper makes her way through prison by making herself a part of the community, both through her contributions but also through just reading the room right (it seems SO GREAT for people dropped into uncomfortable, potentially dangerous situations to be socially adept extroverts -- sure hope I never have to go to prison!). When she's removed from her trusted community of fellow felons, she's much less stable and more adrift, even though she has an ENORMOUS support network outside the prison walls too. When her scene is contrasted with some of the other women's situations, it's utterly clear why people re-offend -- a scary stable community is better than none at all. All-American Boys struggles with the same issue, where community shifts based on geography, race, family, etc. and conflicting loyalties make it so that doing what's "right" in one community is the most wrong thing you can do in another. The police violence and its aftermath break down some communities and create others.


And then, ugh, Missoula. This book was so hard to read in its graphic descriptions of a number of different campus acquaintance rapes, maybe the most damaging human betrayal possible, and then its tragic repercussions for (almost) everyone involved. No one escapes unscathed, with the victim at the center of the pool of suffering. I can't decide if every teenager I know should read this before going to college, or if the many many failures of the college community to address it is too dispiriting. Certainly everyone who is appalled at the Stanford rape verdict needs to read this right now ... and maybe the takeaway for teens is as simple as: don't drink yourself to unconsciousness, ever. Ever.

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