Sunday Salon – Review of “Hush, Hush” by Becca Fitzpatrick

The Sunday Salon.com

Central Premise:

Fallen angels stalk the earth waiting for a two-week period each year when they can take over human bodies and do naughty things. And is if that weren’t enough, “good” angels can sneak out of Heaven and try to do bad things as well! Ahem, where is their Supervisor (if you know Who I mean)?

Underlying Themes:

Nice guys are respectful and boring.
Bad guys are titillating and desirable.
Rape fantasies are alive and well for the socialization of young girls.

Details:

Nora Grey is 16 and a good student. A mysterious boy transfers to her school and manages to become her partner in biology:

“His black eyes sliced into me, and the corners of his mouth tilted up. My heart fumbled a beat and in that pause, a feeling of gloomy darkness seemed to slide like a shadow over me. It vanished in an instant, but I was still staring at him. His smile wasn’t friendly. It was a smile that spelled trouble. With a promise.”

Needless to say, Nora falls hard. She contemplates a physical encounter:

“Now I felt drawn to him by something entirely different. Something with a lot of heat involved. A connection tonight was inevitable. On a scale of one to ten, that terrified me about an eight. And excited me about a nine.”

Later, we move on to “shivers of panic and pleasure”:

“He was the worst kind of wrong. He was so wrong it felt right, and that made me feel completely out of control.”

Women, isn’t this just how we want our teenaged daughters to think? [insert sarcasm emoticon here…]

Discussion:

Let’s not even get into the Central Premise, because I will grant that writing can be challenging when you’ve got to compete in the reading market with hordes of sexy vampires and/or swarms of evil Vampire-Zombie-Bat-Thingies.

Rather, let us turn to the Underlying Themes, for which I have considerably less sympathy.

One would hope that cultural products created by women and aimed at young teenagers would provide assistance in unlearning the culturally pervasive message that eroticism is dependent on male domination. There is a great deal at stake. Not only must girls learn the confidence to assert control over their bodies, but allowing such a central part of life to be defined thusly has wider repercussions for societal roles. That is, characterizing domination and control by men as appealing and desirable extends into relations in the workplace, style of dress, social relations, and the tenacity of stereotypical life choices. And all serve to reinforce one another. I.e., who has a better chance of “snagging” the much-admired football player: the chemistry buff or the sexy cheerleader? the girl who wears comfortable shoes or the girl who wears stilettos (thus ensuring a profitable future for podiatrists later on in her life)? [There was a scene in this book where the Nora and her friend Vee put stilettos in a bag to take to a bar, and I actually thought they were going to use the heels as weapons to protect themselves! Okay, call me not properly socialized…]

In this book, and to be fair, in much of our culture generally, we have girls not only “submitting” to male domination but even longing for it. If you haven’t watched music videos lately, you’re missing out on a vast storehouse of soft porn that valorizes sex, sexy dressing by women, domination by men, women in cages, women in chains, women mimicking the sex act through their gyrations, and lyrics that make it perfectly clear that sexual enticement and submission are key to acceptance by men. Submission is exciting, even more so if there is the thrill of danger. (In this book, Vee sighs in a frisson of longing for a boy who is “just a little bit dangerous.“ Nora can’t resist one.) And let us also not forget that in response to real injuries to women that involve abuse, either sexual or otherwise, it is most often the woman who feels the shame. As Andrea Dworkin noted, “the brilliance of [this] strategy of dominance is that it gets the woman to take the initiative in her own degradation…”

It isn’t just girls who are getting this message, of course. Young boys too are learning that girls are sexual objects, and that considering women as equals is a sure path to humiliation and rejection by male peers.

It has been theorized that women “respond to the pervasive threat of violent and acquisitive male sexuality” by changing themselves rather than working to change the conditions which cause it. (Robin West) Not only is the threat of violence eroticized, but gratification itself is redefined as pleasing a man. And it is the unusual girl that can resist the brew of society and hormones that leads her to put more value on being accepted, popular, and in a romantic relationship than on her own self-actualization. Girls come to define themselves by how closely their looks and personality further those goals. They learn to hate their bodies and forget their dreams of loftier accomplishments. They learn that “just a little bit of danger” is a good thing.

Frankly, I would only want teens to read this book on the condition that they participate in discussion groups afterwards. But then of course, I see stilettos as weapons rather than sexy come-ons.

I’m off to put on my crocs and contemplate the injustice of life…

Rating: 1.5/5 (points for a great cover, and the suspense of several spooky alone-in-the-house scenes)

Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2009

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23 Responses to Sunday Salon – Review of “Hush, Hush” by Becca Fitzpatrick

  1. nymeth says:

    “Shivers of panic and pleasure”? “So wrong it felt right”? “Terrified me about an eight. And excited me about a nine”?! Seriously? I was wary of this book before, but you actually made it sound worse than I’d imagined. Please excuse me; I’m going to bang my head against my desk until it bleeds :S

  2. Iris says:

    It is so hard to write an articulate answer to this post. Let me first say that I absolutely loved it. Your observations and snarkiness get an abosolute 10 (to stay with the whole number thing, “Terrified me about an eight. And excited me about a nine” is seriously twisted).

    Since I have been staring at this screen for over 15 minutes trying to add to what I have written, but coming up with nothing except anger at what is still happening in society and thanking you for this post, I think I will leave it to just that.

  3. Have followed Nymeth’s link on twitter to find this review and now off to read more of your posts. Experiance of trying to walk in the things has taught me that stiletto heels make better weapons than footwear.

  4. softdrink says:

    I had heard that this was a bit like Twilight (with the unhealthy relationship/bad role model stuff), but I didn’t realize it was THAT bad. What a waste of a cover.

  5. Amanda says:

    This was one of those books that never interested me just because of the plot description, but hearing all this stuff laid out makes me feel even more icky towards it. Bleagh.

  6. Aarti says:

    Oh, FABULOUS review, Jill. I haven’t read this book and never really wanted to, but now I REALLY don’t want to. I thought Twilight was horrible for women- this one seems even worse. Ugh. I LOVE your summary of the underlying themes, and then loved even more your detailed descriptions of them.

  7. Meghan says:

    I got this one unsolicited for review and you’ve basically just outlined why I still haven’t read it! Twilight was bad enough. At some point I’m going to have to open this book up – I only hope I can explain just how icky it is as well as you have.

  8. Harvee Lau says:

    This book is not going on my Christmas list! Have a great week!
    My Sunday Salon

  9. Rural View says:

    I had already decided that because of the Twilight phenomenon if I had a teenage daughter I would lock her up, but this just confirms that instinct. I hate the thought that young impressionable girls are subjected to this kind of stuff that I thought we had gotten beyond years ago. I shudder to think how they will feel about themselves when they are 30, 40, 50 and beyond, and what kind of men they will marry. Amanda summed up my reaction perfectly, “Bleagh!”

  10. Jenny says:

    Oh puke. Everything I’ve heard about this book makes me never ever want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. And a shame, too, because when I first saw the cover I thought it was one of the coolest covers I’d ever seen. Can’t they give that excellent cover to a more excellent book?

  11. Lisa says:

    Wow–as I’ve read reviews of this before, I’ve considered picking it up for my 15yo daughter. As soon as I read your “underlying themes” I knew straight away that this was not the kind of thing I want her to read. Not that I would stop her if she picked it up. But at least I will know that we’ll need to be having a discussion about it. Thanks!

  12. rachel says:

    Thanks for this. I’d read so many gushing reviews of this that I was planning to read it, but this puts a different spin on it entirely. I hated Twilight for all these same reasons (plus the writing).

  13. Alyce says:

    I haven’t read a review of this book yet that has made me actually want to read it. I was pretty sure you were going to score it low and you didn’t disappoint (plus your review was awesome).

  14. Stephanie says:

    I disliked this book too, and your review and social commentary knocked it out of the ballpark!

  15. Jenners says:

    I love when you climb on your soapbox (in Crocs no less).
    And now angels have to be bad and dirty? That is just wrong.

  16. Staci says:

    I’ve often thought that stilettos would make a great murder weapon!!! What an excellent and thought provoking review. This book is totally marketed towards the YA group and I thank you for reading it for me so that I don’t have too!!!

  17. zibilee says:

    Both my kids read this book and HATED it. I guess I am teaching them more about sexual identity and gender roles than I thought! Good to hear your very insightful take on this book. It sounds like it was a hot mess.

  18. I’m still angry with myself for buying this one, because the underlying themes you mention are deal breakers for me. PLUS every single one of my trusted bloggers gave it a bad review, but I gave in to pretty cover syndrome. Sigh.

  19. Julie P. says:

    Very interesting. I don’t think I’ll be encouraging my daughter to ever read this one. Like you said though…unless it was to discuss it with me.

  20. Margot says:

    I love your review and all these comments. I also love that Iris gave you an “absolute 10 for your snarkiness..” Wow – you’ve reached the pinnacle.

    Your points are so well taken and you are so right. It saddens me that we are still fighting the same battles, generation after generation.

  21. Ti says:

    How disturbing!! That this is a teen book, I mean. I know that girls are more mature and all that these days. One look at my 7-year-old confirms it, but this is a bit much.

    I love to see you get all torqued over a book though. The snark comes out in spades!

  22. Really interesting, in the sense that I’ve skimmed reviews of this book before and never realized about some of the things you’ve mentioned here. The themes you’re talking about are really disturbing, and not sending a message to kids about what a healthy relationship is. That’s frustrating.

  23. amymckie says:

    You are right. GREAT review. So true so disturbing so bleh bleh bleh.

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