Let me start by saying that I LOVED the novel “Beartown.“ This sequel was good, but (unlike Beartown) left me sad. Although Beartown deals with some extremely sensitive issues, the ending was uplifting. This one is darker and deals with some more of the super-grit that Beartown sort of “yadda-yadda-yadda-ed”, to add a Seinfeld reference.
Serious spoilers below if you haven’t read Beartown but no spoilers for this book.
So, Beartown ends with an epilogue that is many years ahead—and it is so inspiring. A girl who has been through a rape is shown, years in the future, faced with the opportunity to ruin the life of the man who assaulted her. Instead, she rises above, happy and secure in her own life, not excusing him—she simply leaves him with the opportunity to come clean on his own. It’s not a fix-all, because the rapist never serves time, and we all know there’s no ‘fixing’ life for the survivor of rape. All she can do is go on living and surviving each day. But, having read the book, its an insanely satisfying conclusion. You get to see that the girl has moved forward (not moved on) and is living her life on her own terms. The man, on the other hand, has man demons still to face. It’s empowering and probably a lot closer to reality than another ending might have been.
I don’t imagine any rape victim feeling like ‘oh good’ with their assailant ends up in jail. Sure, it’s what the man deserves, but it isn’t like the woman ‘feels better’ and is somehow ‘unraped’ now. Anyway, my point is that Beartown ends in an unexpectedly uplifting way.
In contrast, Us Against You takes us into the bog. The book opens immediately after the events in the previous book (far before the flash-forward epilogue I mentioned), so you watch these characters you have grown to love live through the tough parts. It’s very difficult. In some senses, you got to avoid watching the everyday toll their daughter’s pain takes on her parents, watching her younger brother experience enormous amounts of secondary trauma… we got to skip all that. Us Against You makes you walk that everyday, dirty, painful journey with them. Kira and Peter and Leo have awful discoveries, awful lessons, and awful awakenings in this book. It’s relevant, and it’s a really valid, true-to-life story for each of them, but so sad.
The saddest thing about Us Against You is that it takes a pretty hard left turn to focus extensively on a homosexual relationship between a student and teacher—that the author almost condones. He gets as close to the line of saying ‘it’s ok’ as he can without ever saying ‘it’s ok’. And that is very hard to read. The idea that a seventeen-year-old student *looks* older cannot possibly excuse what’s happening. I feel like the author thinks that if he acts like all the hate is centered on just the bigoted ‘homophobes’ that we will forget its a twenty-five year old and a seventeen-year-old. I did not forget, nor excuse. It doesn’t make me homophobic to say/feel/know that relationship is unacceptable. That relationship IS unacceptable. And the author’s incessant “it’s no one’s business who you sleep with” from every likable character in the series rings VERY empty and hollow. These kinds of statements undermine so much of his message from the first book (about rape) by smacking the reader in the face with his blatherings about ‘love’ between these two “men” when one is legally a child and—worse—his student.
Bottom Line: A really powerful story, but with a very different message than Beartown. It saddens me that the author would choose to blur such a strong anti-rape message (and, really, an anti-abuse-of-power message) from the previous novel with an adult-minor relationship.