I didn’t want to read All the Rage. Or rather, I did, but I was afraid to. Everything I’d read about it said it was a difficult book, a painful book, but a necessary one. It took me nearly a fortnight to pick it up after getting it from the library, and then I ploughed through it in an afternoon. It was as though Courtney Summers has reached into my mind and plucked out every thought I’d ever had on misogyny and rape culture and fashioned them into a narrative that dug its claws into me and wouldn’t let go. I felt Romy’s anger, her pain, and I wanted to reach through the pages and help her, protect her.
One of the criticisms I’ve seen of this novel is that Romy is ‘unlikeable’. Without delving into the question of whether or not a (female) character needs to be likeable, or the fact that Romy has suffered trauma and sometimes people’s attempts to deal with trauma come across as irrational or irritating to others, it’s true that Romy seems to make life difficult for herself; when people question her about behaviour related to her assault, she often lies and makes herself out to be a rather selfish and irresponsible person. It’s frustrating to watch the people who care about her try to help her and have her present herself as some flighty teenage girl when we as readers know she’s struggling inside.
No matter how frustrated I got with Romy, though, it never stopped me feeling righteous anger on her behalf when her classmates bullied her or the sheriff accused her of lying. And so the core theme of the novel rings loud and clear: No woman who lies to protect herself should be accused of lying for attention. No girl who has a crush on a boy should be told she was asking for it when he assaults her. Women have the right to be believed about their own assaults.
This is a grim book, and yet it is not without hope. Though her friends may have abandoned her, Romy’s family stand by her. And there’s the boy who kisses her, and stops when she tells him to. That, in fact, was one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the entire book, because Romy is completely shocked that anyone would stop.
The final chapter of the book is a perfect example of this intermingling of hope and despair. One of Romy’s classmates, someone who took a lead role in her bullying throughout the novel, comes to Romy’s house to apologise for not believing her. Yet as they talk on the front porch voices on the radio drift through, the radio commentators talking about the bright future the poor boy who has been arrested had before him, and what a shame it is, never mind that he was arrested for killing a girl who prevented him from raping another.
And so we see how things might change: slowly, one person at a time.