Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar

Why I read it: Brie from Romance Around the Corner mentioned this one to me on Twitter when we were talking about some New Adult books we were loving.  She wanted to get hold of the book but as the author is Australian, it was geo restricted for her. as an ebook and at the time, not available in print either.  Myself, I ended up waiting for the UK publication as it was less than half the price to buy it from The Book Depository than to get it here - even in an ebook version.  Brie tells me this one is now lined up next in her queue.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  Carly has dropped out of uni to spend her days surfing and her nights working as a cook in a Manly cafĂ©. Surfing is the one thing she loves doing … and the only thing that helps her stop thinking about what happened two years ago at schoolies week.

And then Carly meets Ryan, a local at the break, fresh out of jail. When Ryan learns the truth, Carly has to decide. Will she let the past bury her? Or can she let go of her anger and shame, and find the courage to be happy?

Warning:  If you have rape triggers, this is not a book for you.

What worked for me (and what didn't): This is kind of a hard one for me to grade.  On the one hand, I devoured this book in 1 day, staying up way too late to make sure Carly got a happy/hopeful ending.  The writing was clean and engaging, even though I probably didn't understand more than half of the surfing language. (It will be interesting to see what Brie thinks of the Australianisms in the book - there's a lot of "mate" and other Aussie terms.  It felt authentic to me even while I was sometimes cringing at the way some of my brethren can be... less than articulate).  

Carly gutted me.  After being sexually assaulted during "schoolies week" (I think in the US many teens go to Florida to celebrate the end of school - here they go to the Gold Coast in Queensland) after she finished high school, she withdrew from her family and friends, dropped out of university, moved from the Central Coast of New South Wales to Manly and lived only to surf.  Her only happiness was in surfing, where she could get away from herself and not feel empty or awful anymore. She is frightened of men, intimacy, sex.  She feels rage and emptiness and overwhelming shame.  What bothered me, both in terms of the book and for Carly, is that she didn't talk to anyone about it.  Even by the end of the book, there is really only a fairly brief discussion with Ryan (and, while he loves and accepts her, he possibly did not articulate what she needed to hear - but then, what do I know, I've not been sexually assaulted).  Carly got no treatment, no counselling - it seems she wasn't even tested for STD's. She didn't tell anyone, until Ryan.  She has very interesting reasoning for not telling anyone and for not reporting it, which felt authentic but at the same time, it left her dealing (or not dealing as the case may be) with an horrendous trauma completely alone.

By the end of the book, Carly was essentially doing the same things she had been doing at the beginning, albeit she had now opened herself to love with Ryan.  But she had made no decisions about possibly going back to uni (to pursue perhaps a different form of study given that she clearly hated the business communication course she had been doing) or possibly pursuing further education/an apprenticeship as a chef/cook.  She had not reconciled at all with her family.  She had not been to a counsellor.  After the big reveal to Ryan, which was heartwrenching - gritty and raw rather than especially graphic in my opinion (and I DARE YOU to stop reading after that), she burrows away for a long time and eventually finds solace again in the surf.  There is a happy/hopeful romantic ending, never fear, but I wasn't convinced, in terms of Carly's mental health, that she had really processed anything or was in a better place.

The story is told from Carly's first person POV and Ryan isn't a big talker, so I did feel that I didn't get enough of him.   However, there was one wonderful scene (involving a discussion about tattoos) which showed her was absolutely gone over Carly. And, when push comes to shove, he chooses Carly over everyone else.  Ryan is a fairly unusual hero.  When we meet him, he's just got out of jail.  While it wasn't a violent crime he was put away for, I wonder if some readers may find his criminal past makes it difficult to warm to him.  But, I liked that he turned his life around and it was clear he wasn't going back to jail.  (He got a job and he moved on - that's why I particularly noticed that Carly (with the exception of her relationship with Ryan) didn't.) Considering that for most of the book he was clueless about what made Carly so skittish (and, while he wasn't a bully or pushy, he wasn't what I'd call sensitive either - at least in terms of sex) he was certainly very patient with her emotions - to the extent that on one of their first dates she spends a lot of it sobbing in his arms. Ryan is also unusual in that he's not drop dead gorgeous.  He has a good body - he's a surfer: of course he has a good body, but he has freckles everywhere and "sandy lank hair" and ears that stick out.  I liked that he wasn't an Adonis.  Not a lot was made of his looks really (or hers for that matter - there was little physical description of Carly in the book) and it put me in mind of the recent post by Kate Elliott regarding the male gaze - I felt this book was written very much with Carly's gaze - it wasn't terribly sexual - which makes sense given what happened to her.  She sees bodies more as functional, particularly in relation to surfing.  Or, at least, that was my impression. 

I would have liked a few more chapters, or maybe an epilogue a little bit down the track to give me some comfort that Carly was truly going to be okay. My heart broke for her.  As much as Ryan loves her, I didn't think his love alone could "heal" her and I really wasn't convinced she could do it on her own.  While I understood her reluctance to get help, I wondered if the book was perhaps sending an unhealthy message to younger/vulnerable readers? (my inner parent showing).

What else?  Carly is 19 and Ryan 26,  so I'd say this book is definitely "New Adult" rather than YA.  One other thing I'll add is that it is told in present tense - that might put some people off, but I found in this book, it kept the tension strong - I was finding out what was happening just as Carly was, and I wasn't ever sure just what would happen.  While I'm not a huge fan of 1st person present tense, I think it worked well in this book.

Carly strikes up a friendship with a fellow surfer, 15 year old Danny.  He has synaesthesia - he sees things in terms of colour.  For example, Wednesday is green.   The title of the book is actually a reference to a way Carly describes the ocean toward the end of the story:
When I come over the top of the dune I see the ocean and I feel like I'm seeing it for the first time.  
Today it's blue, straight and simple.  Raw blue.
But, it also relates to Carly herself.  Danny sees Carly as blue - when she is particularly troubled, it is a dark, sickly, blue from which Danny flinches and when she is better the colour is somehow easier on his eyes.  And Carly was certainly "raw" in very many important ways.

While I devoured the book and the main character gutted me (my concern for Carly ran well beyond the end of the book), there were some things I felt were missing or light on, in terms of an excellent story.  Hence, my grade.  I'd recommend it but it may leave you  feeling on the melancholy side rather than with warm and fuzzy with satisfaction and triumph.

Grade:  B-  ETAThis book has stayed with me. The more I thought about it... well, now it's a B.


Merrian said...

I think Carly's reactions sound incredibly authentic to her situation. Living in the aftermath of rape/sexual assault and healing is a years long project. I agree that she needs support and help and that Ryan's love and acceptance and even his modelling of letting go of the past and moving on with life is helpful but not enough. Here's the thing though, counselling doesn't work until you are ready for it to work. Carly has to get to a place where that becomes possible and sounds like this book is about how she gets to that point. So it does sound like an epilogue would have been good. It is interesting though that somebody whose body has been violated finds a healthy and hopeful way to use and reclaim and live in her body and in doing that she connects with Ryan and even Danny.

Kaetrin said...

Brie asked me on Twitter whether it had a happy ending and I had to think about it. Because Carly's recovery was still very much a work in progress I couldn't say an unqualified "yes".

I'm sure you're right about it being a years long project and I'm sure that even when it's "done" there are still things which trip people up from time to time. And yes, you are right that counselling only helps if the counsellee is willing. Carly doesn't want to be seen as a victim. She doesn't want to be a rape statistic. She doesn't want her family to judge her, nor to see her "shame". By the end of the book, I'm not sure any of that had changed so I did query where she was along the "toward health" spectrum.

But then, she does manage to have an ultimately successful relationship with Ryan - including a satisfying sexual relationship and she does start forming connections - with Ryan of course, but also with Danny, so that's progress too. I just can't say that she's "healthy" at the end. I think she's still very traumatised and emotionally fragile and I didn't see that changing until a) she got to a place where she felt she could seek help and b) she actually got it.

For my own peace of mind, I would have liked that epilogue! :)

Merrian said...

I don't know Carly's rationale for not talking with her family but one element that comes up with Chronic Illness and I could see perhaps applying here... Often it becomes about their issues and responses to your situation. This can end up feeling like a further violation as you are in effect colonised/taken over by other people's views and responses.

Kaetrin said...

@Merrian Carly's dad didn't want her to go to schoolies week in the first place - they'd had a big fight over it.

She and her father don't get along well anyway - although I couldn't tell whether Carly was an unreliable narrator in this regard as her dad wasn't an active character in the book (ie, he was mentioned by her but we didn't see them interacting). She thinks he thinks she's a disappointment and the assault would only add to those feelings. I can certainly understand her not talking to her dad about it in the circumstances.

And yes, I know what you mean about family reactions - when I was going through a hard time once a relative of mine told me *she* couldn't take it anymore!

175m0 said...

Great, thoughtful review.

I loved this book. The easy writing style, the Australianisms...it felt like home. Like I could be reading about a friend, a sister. That is why it was so powerful, and an extremely emotional read. I felt that Carly did develop through the book. This was shown through her relationships with her work colleagues, Danny, Ryan and her flat mate. She opened up in her own way. Baby steps.

Not having suffered sexual abuse/rape, I felt for her written character, she was coping in a way that worked for her. I read this a while back but I can't recall wanting an epilogue. I think all too often writers include one as an easy way out. A happy ending. Sometimes there is no perfectly happy ending, no final resolution. In Carly's case this worked because she will have to live with this every day, for the rest if her life.

Brie said...

I'll skip the review and comments and come back when I'm done. Glad to see this book makes people talk!

Kaetrin said...

@175m0 Yes, Carly did make some progress and I liked that she was starting to form real connections, to Hannah, to Danny and Ryan.

I agree that Carly will have to live with what happened to her for the rest of her life - of course she will. But I think, in terms of truly dealing with the trauma, she had only taken small (albeit significant) steps by the end of the book and I was still worried about her. I guess I would have liked a more hopeful ending than there was - I don't think it would have been an easy way out because there was never going to be a magic pill which made it all better. But I would have liked to have a better indication that she would be okay.

I have an almost pathological need for a HEA I think :) One of the main reasons I read romance is because real life so often sucks and in romance I get a happy ending. I get most of my gritty realism from real life - in my fiction I prefer a more idealised version I guess - so for *this* book, I would have liked to see what *could* have happened if things lined up well at the end - given that she was always going to have those traumatic scars on her psyche.

And then, my parent gene kicks in and I wonder if a young girl reading the book who may have suffered a similar trauma (or knows someone who has etc) may think she can/should do it all on her her own and I worry.(Very possibly, that's a ridiculous thing for me to think). I don't know - perhaps I'm overthinking now - the book really did affect me... maybe I need to re-think the grade...

Kaetrin said...

@Brie - can't wait to see what you think!

175m0 said...

All excellent points. And I agree. I love the HEA ending, but there have been a number of YA books I have read where I thought the epilogue was unrealistic and where an open ending or HFN would have been better.

I seem to accept an open ending more readily in YA than adult books.

Kaetrin said...

@175m0 Ha! I hate open-ended endings in anything - don't even ask me what I thought about the ending of Castaway - & I *still* want to know what was in the package. LOL!

Brie said...

Ah! So schoolies week is like an end of the year spring break?

I thought that everything about Carly was authentic. The rape happened a year ago, and honestly, I don’t blame her for acting the way she does, I understand her. Withdrawing from life almost to the point of denial and just relying on surfing to get through the day, was her coping mechanism. She had troubles at home, even before the attack, so it makes sense that she doesn’t know how or wants to seek help. She also felt disgusting and tainted, why would she want to share that? As Merrian says, counseling only works when the person is ready for it, so I have no complaints in that department. Her situation and the way she dealt with it was real and heartbreaking.

I agree that Ryan’s love won’t heal her, but it will help her take the first step. In fact, the act of telling him what happened was that first step, until that point no one else knew. I really liked their relationship, I was afraid that the age difference would be too much, I was even afraid that he was one of the rapists (when she has that flashback, I was sweating!), but it was balanced and supportive. I also loved that they were regular people, flawed and that he didn’t have all the answers to make it better.

I think the ending was hopeful, but I do worry because her recovery can go either way – maybe she will be fine, but there’s also a possibility that she won’t. I want to believe in her HEA, but it’s certainly open ended. I don’t think the books needed an epilogue, not every happy ending has to be spelled out.

It’s not a happy book, I felt gutted and raw (the title is so fitting) and I won’t read it again, but I thought it was wonderful. So gritty and emotional, I just want to hug Carly. This was an A read to me and I want to recommend it to everyone but it kills me that it’s only available through Book Depository. We certainly need more books like this one.

The Australianisms didn’t bother me, but they felt a bit cartoonish. I kept wondering if Australians really speak that way. I believe the do, because the author is Australian and she had no reason to exaggerate it, but still, I think there were too many mates in it.

Kaetrin said...

Yes - Schoolies is the end of final year (usually drunken) celebration - there's a big one on the Gold Coast and smaller ones around too - in South Australia, they go to Victor Harbor which is a beach resort town (full of retirees usually!!).

I wanted an epilogue or a little bit more because I *need* my happy ending. I know you said that not every happy ending needs to be spelled out - BUT IT DOES!!!! :D

As for all the "mates", well, *some* Australians talk like that (I don't!) and I think it's even more common with youth.