Double standards are an unpleasant reality of life — and it’s usually those who are subjected to them that notice. Behavioral requirements differ between races, genders, and sexualities; what’s considered appropriate or forgivable for those in power is punished, sometimes severely, for those who aren’t. The three new books for teens in this week’s book club both recognize the double standards still regrettably present today and are having none of them. They point out the differences in how men and women are treated in an attempt to isolate and remedy the problem. We’re already hoping our teens will save the world; this is one good step.
1. The Accidental Bad Girl by Maxine Kaplan ($19): Kendall seemingly has very little to complain about. Although the mean girls in her group who rule her small Brooklyn private school don’t exactly keep their mouths shut, Kendall says, “I heard no evil, saw no evil, and spoke no evil. I hadn’t rocked the high school boat.” She’s also wealthy, white, and popular. Then, heading into her senior year, Kendall is discovered about to have sex, and not just any sex — she’s with her best friend Audrey’s ex-boyfriend Grant in the equipment cage of the school gym. You’d think both of them would suffer the same consequences, but Grant, who knew they would be discovered, weathers the storm intact and even lauded by his friends. It’s Kendall who is the new social pariah, and she begins to understand that her privilege doesn’t completely insulate her from society’s vicious double standards.
“Grant had no reason to care. He wasn’t the one in trouble. On the contrary, Grant had been forgiven. Nobody even remembered that Audrey and Grant had in fact been broken up when our ‘affair’ happened. Before I had put the moratorium on social media, I saw the unofficial Facebook album announcing their reconciliation. It was called ‘The Night Audrey and Grant’s Relationship Became Officially Inappropriate’ and contained a collection of portraits of her and Grant at the graduation party. The nine pictures told a story, but I only needed to see the first one: Grant kissing her high up on the cheekbone, arm slung around her waist; her leaning toward him, dark auburn hair hanging over his chest, smiling at the camera with an eyebrow raised. That was also the night I saw the picture of me in my underwear. I had logged out and hadn’t been back.”
It gets even worse than ostracism on the first day of school when Kendall gets knocked out in the bathroom by a girl she’s never seen. Seems someone has hacked into Kendall’s Facebook page and has associated her with drug dealers and even stealing drugs. Now, she’s suddenly firmly entrenched in the position of the “bad girl.” So she figures she’ll play the role to the hilt, especially once drug dealer Mason blackmails her into being his delivery girl. She’s pissed off at how all the men she encounters are equally dismissive and possessive of her, and she thinks it might be time to solve the mystery, highlight the disparity, and start a revolution.
2. This Book Betrays My Brother by Kagiso Lesego Molope ($15): “I am told that the news of my brother’s birth spread to the south, to the east, and so far north that it crossed the border and went into Botswana, where it was welcomed joyously by aging and long-lost relatives…A son, in my mother’s family, had been in people’s wishes and prayers for many years.” The women in Naledi’s South African family seemed “cursed” to only bear daughters until her mother finally had a son. Naledi’s brother Basimane was thus treated as practically royalty in her family; his birth described as “the happiest day of all of our lives,” while Naledi had to accept her existence as “nothing special.”
They come from the remote township of Marapong, where Basi grows up hanging out with the town boys, who, unsurprisingly, have far more freedom than the girls. When their father’s economic success allows them to move up in the world both figuratively and literally, Basi won’t stop spending time with his friends, even though they’re deemed “not classy” enough for him by his parents. That’s not really the problem, though; the issue is that their newfound status and Basi’s elevated importance is leading him to treat women terribly, and he’s not getting called on it. Basi seems to crusade for social justice, but one night, Naledi sees him do something horrible that she can’t reconcile with the image of her brother. She doesn’t know if she should keep family loyalty or speak out against him — or if she’ll even be believed if she does.
This Book Betrays My Brother deals with the nature of truth and perception, and whose claims are to be considered and believed, versus those less important and discredited: “The thing about family history is that it all depends on the person you speak to. There may be agreements here and there, but the story you walk away with depends on what the person telling it wishes to reveal and, perhaps more importantly, not to reveal. I tend to file away what I am told in my head with a little note saying who told me the story…This is all a bit tricky when you are a child, of course. But you learn, as I have learned, to pick and choose your storytellers very, very carefully.” Naledi has decided to tell her side of the story, to explain her brother and his actions. What the consequences of that may be are anybody’s guess.
3. Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake ($18): Owen is Mara’s three-minute-older twin brother (or so he claims; she insists that the birth certificates are wrong). They go to the same high school with the same magnet arts program, though he’s a violinist and she’s in show choir. Owen and Mara are as close as two people who once shared a womb often are; they tease each other mercilessly, but ultimately they’re each other’s sounding board and each twin has the other’s back. Mara’s a little adrift at the moment. She’s recently come out as bisexual and dated her best friend Charlie (who’s nonbinary but uses female pronouns), and has to deal with “nothing but threesome jokes and passive-aggressive slut shaming every time I venture into the hallway.” Then, she broke up with Charlie before things got too serious. Now Charlie’s not talking to her.
Owen’s currently dating Hannah, who’s become close to Mara by extension. Owen’s always been a good kid, “never so much as been tardy to a class, let alone skipped one,” and is first chair violin of the orchestra. But his behavior changes when he’s at parties. “When he gets around his friends, he unfurls,” says Mara. “If you ask me, he acts like a total moron at these parties, but it’s how he unwinds. Beer and jokes and bass-addled music that you can feel pulsing in your toes and fingertips.”
It’s after one of these parties that the unthinkable happens: Hannah accuses Owen of raping her. Mara is a staunch feminist who started her school’s feminist club with the mantra to believe survivors of sexual assault. Now, she faces a terrible internal conflict, as well as the resurgence of PTSD from a previous traumatic experience. She’s pulled between two sides: Her mother and a large number of classmates declare their support for Owen, while the feminist club is completely behind Hannah. Mara gets to see the double standards in a “he said, she said” rape case up close, all complicated by her love for her brother and the terrible realization that nothing is as straightforward as we want it to be.
What books set the right standard? Tag us in your next progressive read @BritandCo.
Brit + Co may at times use affiliate links to promote products sold by others, but always offers genuine editorial recommendations.