Ali Greenleaf and Blythe Jensen couldn’t be more different. Ali is sweet, bitingly funny, and just a little naive. Blythe is beautiful, terrifying, and the most popular girl in school. They’ve never even talked to each other, until a party when Ali decides she’ll finally make her move on Sean Nessel, her longtime crush, and the soccer team’s superstar. But Sean pushes Ali farther than she wants to go. When she resists–he rapes her.
Blythe sees Ali when she runs from the party, everyone sees her. And Blythe knows something happened with Sean, she knows how he treats girls. Even so, she’s his best friend, his confidant. When he begs her to help him, she can’t resist.
So Blythe befriends Ali in her attempt to make things right with Sean, bringing Ali into a circle of ruthless popular girls, and sharing her own dark secrets. Despite the betrayal at the heart of their relationship, they see each other, in a way no one ever has before.
In her searing, empowering debut novel, Hayley Krischer tells the story of what happened that night, and how it shaped Ali and Blythe forever. Both girls are survivors in their own ways, and while their experiences are different, and their friendship might not be built to last, it’s one that helps each of them find a way forward on their own terms.
Thanks to the The Nerd Daily and the publisher for offering me the chance to read this book ahead of its release! You can also find my review on The Nerd Daily here.
Hayley Krischer’s raw debut deals with so many important subjects such as sexual assault, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, mental illness, manipulation, and toxic friendships. The nuanced story focuses on Ali Greenleaf’s empowering journey of finding her voice and coping with the trauma after being raped by her crush, but then also on Blythe Jensen who befriends Ali in order to manipulate her into staying silent. Ali is a vibrant, artistic junior who prefers to stay in the background while Blythe is the most popular girl at her school; she’s described as perfect and everyone at their school wants to be like her. Their friendship is strange and not only because of how different they are in terms of popularity or interests, but also because despite Blythe’s motivation and Ali being slightly aware of it – they manage to connect on a deeper level. Ali sees past Blythe’s facade of ice queen, she truly sees her, not as the superficial popular girl, but the vulnerable, often angry at the world for putting too much pressure on her teenager that hides beneath. They connect as they share stories about their strained relationships with their mothers (Blythe’s mother has bipolar disorder and Ali’s mother is a recovering alcoholic) and soon, Ali understands that her and Blythe aren’t as different as she imagined at first.
Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf explores the aftermath of Ali’s rape focusing on the psychological effects, the way rape culture affects victims, how it can make them blame themselves and be less inclined to report it as well, and the ways survivors can find their voices and feel empowered. Krischer also made some great points about how toxic high school environments can make it even harder for girls to feel safe and supported enough to report a sexual abuse. These environments tend to normalise sexual violence, blame the victims for how they were dressed or for drinking too much, some go as far as accusing the victim for trying to ruin the abuser’s life – anything to make them feel ashamed and guilty.
Besides the important discussions on rape culture, victim blaming, and empowering of the survivors, there was something very original about the book and that’s Blythe’s perspective. What the author did with Blythe’s perspective was quite fascinating as in real life, people like her rarely get to talk about their motivation, what pushes them to make excuses for a rapist or an abuser. Reading her part of the story made me uncomfortable at times because even though she was obviously in denial about her own trauma and was heavily manipulated by Sean, her best friend and Ali’s rapist, and there were times when I thought she should have known better. Even after understanding the magnitude of everything Sean had done to Ali, she still did some awful things only to defend her reputation and that was inexcusable. That being said, her character was very complex and multi-dimensional, which means you can’t say that she’s all good or all bad. She’s someone with a lot of luggage, that made questionable decisions again and again, but she’s also someone who seems to want to change for the better by the end of the book.
The book also tried to address issues like drug and alcohol abuse, but the discussion wasn’t as nuanced and it felt at times like an afterthought. The fast switch between the two perspectives was disorientating at times and from time to time, especially during crucial moments, the perspectives were too short to get their point across. The secondary characters weren’t developed enough, they rarely had background stories and their personalities were quite simplistic especially when compared to Ali and Blythe.
The readers will surely appreciate the resources and the trigger warnings that the author had provided and how thoughtfully she tackles the sensitive subjects included in her book. Her note at the end of the book is especially powerful and explains very well why a story like this one needed to be written, why it’s so relevant and why it will always be. Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf will impress its readers with its authenticity and rawness. It’s an intense and emotional story with multifaceted protagonists that won’t be easy to forget.
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