Book Club: Leslie’s Journal by Allan Stratton

Another book that I’ve already read, but one that informed my views on healthy relationships and seeking help when you need it at a young age. This book has violence, drugs, and extremely crass language, but I think it’s a book that every teenager should read, especially before entering any serious relationship. Bold statement, I know.

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This book is about a teenage girl who is writing in a journal assigned in English class. The book starts off as her mocking the project, but by the end its her safety blanket. I really like the writing style, and I think that Stratton does a good job at writing a journal style book. A lot of authors stray too far into the “I’m a Teenager and I use Teenager Slang” or into the “I’m a Spacial Snowflake Teenager and I use Big Words.” This book shows that Leslie is a complex character who uses slang and swear words often, but is capable of making deep and complex statements as well.

This book is also a guidebook on what NOT to look for in a relationship. When Leslie first meets Jason, he’s already sending off weird signals. The overconfidence, kissing her before even knowing her for two minutes, making fun of her friends, making her feel insecure about her inexperience with alcohol or sex. For example, the Big Night, where they first had sex (read: Jason first rapes Leslie) is all of these things cultivated into one. He invites her over, changes the plans suddenly to make her feel like he’s in control, gets her drunk, and takes advantage. Even if his excuse of “it was your idea” was actually true, it’s still sexual assault. She was intoxicated and he knew it. He knew she had drunk way too much, and he probably knew when she knocked back her first drink. She chugged whisky because she was thirsty? Anyone with any drinking experience would know that’s not why you drink whisky, and if that she was thirsty to get her something actually quenching and not another whisky. Once someone is intoxicated they cannot consent to anything, especially not sex. What an actually good boyfriend would have done is not go ahead and sleep with her, but tell her no and give her some water and food.

But no, instead he puts this traumatic event completely into Leslie’s hands by telling her than she wanted it and that he loves her and just really cares for her, even though none of his actions have implied such. He plays with her emotions constantly. Getting mad when she spends time with anyone else and then claiming its just because he loves her. He plays her hot and cold, changing up his emotions at a drop of a hat. It also shows how much the victim can truly feel like their abuser is doing nothing wrong. He just loves me, he worries about me, I need to trust him more since he loves me so much. Leslie is constantly brushing off Jason’s violence and sexual abuse, both to herself and her friends.

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There are two problems I have with this book, but one of them I wouldn’t want changed. The first one is, this story is a little too textbook. Jason does EVERYTHING that abusers have been known to do. He’s not primarily physical or emotional, but does everything wrong. I think that the author tried a little too hard to check all of the boxes, instead of making a complex character with a back story and motive. There is one line that implies he is like this because his parents made him feel entitled, but that’s really all we know about Jason. I get not wanting to create sympathy for the abuser, but as it stands, Jason is very flat.

The other problem is the ending. In real life, less than 22% of domestic abuse instances get reported to the police in Canada and lead to 40,000 arrests. That means that there is approximately¬†71,200 abusers that are not getting reported, let alone those that are not getting arrested or otherwise punished. The way things worked out for Leslie is almost a complete fantasy compared to how the average domestic abuse story plays out in reality. But this is the problem I have with this book that I think should be part of the book still. Even though those numbers are depressing, fewer people reporting isn’t going to help. Having such a positive ending for Leslie will inspire more girls to try to break free from their situations and get justice for themselves. And a lot of Leslie’s journey to freedom is realistic, such as the principal initially shrugging her off and how Leslie is on trial just as much as Jason when it comes to remembering details and acting like the perfect victim.

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I also want to talk about the modernization this book went through. When I first read this book, the pictures were physical print outs and not on a memory card, there was no GPS tracking, Leslie never received a cell phone from Jason, the threatening emails came in her locker, and Facebook was not a concern at all. I think that they did a good job at incorporating these new threats to victims. When I first read that there had been a new edition with modernized content, I was afraid it would be full of texts using embarrassing text acronyms, but I think that they managed to incorporate these additions without deviating from the plot or sounding like an out of touch parent trying to stay hip to the trends.

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Please reach out. You deserve it.

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The Complaints

by Ian Rankin

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Nobody likes The Complaints–they’re the cops who investigate other cops. It’s a department known within the force as “The Dark Side,” and it’s where Malcolm Fox works. He’s a serious man with a father in a nursing home and a sister who persists in an abusive relationship, frustrating problems about which he cannot seem to do anything.

Then the reluctant Fox is given a new case. There’s a cop named Jamie Breck, and he’s dirty. The problem is, no one can prove it. As Fox takes on the job, he learns that there’s more to Breck than anyone thinks–dangerous knowledge, especially when a vicious murder takes place far too close to home.

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