This is the second of the series. My review of Catching Jordan is here.
So, continuing the dialogue I started with Catching Jordan, Stealing Parker takes on some completely different issues: LGBT issues in the South, Christianity, cruelty and hypocrisy, slut-shaming, and the exploitation of young women by men in positions of authorities.
I'm even more ambivalent about this one than I was about Catching Jordan. The problem that I had with Catching Jordan was that it explores its issues in a context that is, in my opinion, so unrealistic that it detracts from the discussion. This one, though, it was real and believable in every way.
I'm going to start by referring to Tina Fey's A Mother's Prayer for Her Daughter, that went around a few years ago. You can read the whole thing here, and if you've never read it, it is so worth reading because, as a mother, with a daughter, she nailed it.
But it is this line that is relevant to this review:
"May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty."
Parker is beautiful and damaged. And it is the damage that draws the creepy baseball coach's eye, not the beauty. She is damaged because her mother came out as gay and left her father for another woman. She is damaged because as a result of that event - an event over which she had no control - she has been ostracized and judged by her friends and her church. In order to prove that SHE is not a lesbian, she hooks up with guys that she doesn't care about, doesn't even really like, and as a result, she is also endlessly slut-shamed by the girls who used to be her friends. She quit playing softball because her mom was a softball player, and she overheard one of her so-called friends call her "a butch softball player."
Her family is barely surviving. Her father is absent, her brother is almost always drunk. Only Parker is holding it together, barely, by her fingernails, cooking dinner and trying to pretend like she still has parents.
And then Brian shows up. He is 22, five years her senior, and is coaching the baseball team. Parker has signed on as the "manager" of the boys baseball team because it allows her to be around a game she loves without being subject to the casual cruelty of her female peers. Brian locks onto her like a scud missile on a target, and the ensuing explosion nearly destroys her. She is again shamed and blamed while he is allowed to resign rather than be subjected to an investigation and, probably, a criminal prosecution.
And that, my friends, is what bugged me. Because I don't think that there was any actual intention to victim blame here. And what happened is a really good representation of what happens to girls who have this experience with an older man who, let it not go unsaid, and in all caps: WAS EXPLOITING HER. Being blamed for the team losing its coach, being called a slut, being ostracized by her peers. Yeah, that's what happens all right.
I was with Parker. I was even with Miranda Kenneally.
Until she left it there. And yeah, that's usually how it gets left. The victim soldiers on, or she doesn't, because she is either strong and resilient or she isn't. But this is fiction, people, and we have a chance to have one element of the story, one character, one friend to stand up for the victim, one religious leader to lead his flock in the direction of victim-supporting not slut-shaming, or, even, a whole community, not behave completely in character when a girl is abused. Even an epilogue talking about why this behavior is wrong. Why victim blaming and slut shaming are unequivocally unfair and misogynist and, even, grotesque after a fashion.
And that didn't happen. What happened is that Parker's love interest "forgave her" for her relationship with the coach. And that, friends, is pretty much where I would have thrown the book across the room, except I was reading it on my kindle.
It was real. But dammit, it was unsatisfying. And I don't even know what else to say. I get it that Miranda Kenneally is writing about a place that I loathe, about people who are cruel while they claim to be Christians. And the book did, to some degree, fulfill every single stereotype I have of the Bible Belt. Being a liberal from Oregon, that's pretty much how I expect them to behave, all hypocrisy and meanness, cloaked in smug self-righteousness. And Miranda Kenneally grew up in Tennessee, so maybe this is accurate. I can't say. But it's vile and indefensible if that is really how it is. And girls who grow up in that culture will be damaged by it.
This is the last of the books that is available on KU. The next one, apparently, includes an abortion. I don't think I could take another visit to Hundred Oaks, Tennessee, in any event, at least for a while.