Sunday, 29 April 2018

Review: I Stop Somewhere by T. E. Carter

I Stop Somewhere by T. E. CarterNetGalleyI Stop Somewhere by T. E. Carter (eProof) - "I'm not even angry it happened. Mostly, I'm just angry that it could. That it keeps happening."

Ellie Frias has never wanted to be popular, she just wants to blend in, to be accepted. But then Caleb Breward tells her she's beautiful and makes her believe it.

Ellie loves Caleb, but sometimes she's not sure she likes him - the possessive way he touches her, his harsh tone, how he ignores her one minute and can't get enough the next. And one black night, she discovers the monster her boyfriend really is.

Ellie wasn't the first girl Caleb raped. But she was the first he murdered.

Now, trapped, she witnesses him shatter the lives of other girls. Powerless and alone, Ellie tries to keep hold of happier memories, always waiting – hoping – that someone will find her.

The Lovely Bones meets Asking For It - this is a heartbreaking and searing debut about a lost teenager, and the town she is forced to leave behind.
From Goodreads.

Trigger Warning: This book heavily features rape and sexual violence. Although not graphic, it's clear what's happening.

I cannot even begin to say just how much of an impact I Stop Somewhere by T. E. Carter has left on me. This is an incredibly powerful, but unbelievably heartbreaking novel, and not one I'll be forgetting in a while.

Ellie is dead. She was raped and murdered by the boy she loved, Caleb, and is now stuck here as a ghost, haunting the abandoned house where she died. But she has to watch, time and again, as Caleb and his brother Noah lure more girls to the house and rapes them, too. All she wants is to be found; her body is buried in the back yard, and her father has no idea what's happened to her, but the police stopped looking months ago. Hope comes in the form of one of the most recent victims, Gretchen, who reports the crime, and makes a lot of noise, asking what happened happened to Ellie, certain her disappearance has something to do with Caleb and Noah. But Caleb and Noah's father is a powerful politician with money, and can afford the best attorney. When it comes down to her word against theirs, who will be believed?

I Stop Somewhere is not a book that will be enjoyed. It's a hard, difficult read that, at times, I had to force myself to keep reading, because of how it made me feel. It's beautifully told, but it's absolutely harrowing. The book opens during the rape of a girl Ellie has to witness, and you're forced into facing the horror right from the get-go. Although these scenes - and yes, there are multiple scenes - aren't graphic nor gratuitous, they are written in a way that you know exactly what's happening. There's no turning away for the reader from the crying, the pleas, the violence, the laughter.

I Stop Somewhere is told by Ellie (who is Latina; her mother is Puerto Rican, and her father is of Peruvian descent) in the present, as a ghost, but we also get Ellie's story leading up to her murder. They're told almost like flashbacks, but with Ellie giving commentary on what happened then with what she knows now. Ellie was bullied in middle school because she developed early, and was curvy. They called her fat, they called her a slut, they made her life hell. She is also pretty poor; there's only her Dad, and they live in a town, Hollow Oaks, that is suffering. So many people have been evicted for being unable to pay their bills. There are so many "zombie" houses, houses that have been left empty, houses Caleb and Noah's dad, who also works in real estate, has to make up and fix in order to sell them on for the banks. Ellie's father works double shifts at the store he works at pretty much all the time, and still, they have very little money. Her dad is always completely exhausted, Ellie has mac and cheese from a box for dinner every night, and still the over due bills pile up and up and up. All of Ellie's clothes are discounted, and not quite right, which just adds to the bullying.

During the Summer before she starts high school, she seeks the help of an older neighbour, Kate, who has finished high school. All she wants is to blend in, to not stand out, to not be noticed, and Kate helps her. And it works; she starts high school, and nobody notices her. She can relax into going under the radar. Until she's noticed by Caleb, who tells her she's beautiful. Ellie originally wanted to blend in, but she's also lonely, and with the bullying, her self-esteem is low. She is a naive 14-year-old who is desperate to be loved, desperate to be told she is worthy, and although things don't feel quite right, soon the two are in a relationship. Even though they don't really talk, even though she's not really sure if she likes him as a person. But he wakes up desire in her, which she confuses for love, and Caleb showers her in attention, even if that attention is mostly just kissing, and whatever else Ellie will allow as they relationship develops. And all the while, we, the readers, can see what's going on, while Ellie is oblivious. And she ends up dying for it.

All this we learn in almost alternating chapters, with present day eventually following a police investigation into the rapes of Gretchen, and another girl, Kailey, who came forward after hearing what happened to Gretchen. But there's very little to go on. They can both describe the house, but they don't know where it is - neither girl are from Hollow Oaks; Kailey was visiting, and Gretchen goes to the same college as Noah. And Caleb and Noah have an exceptional attorney; they, their attorney, and their father care nothing for the women and girls who have been hurt. The lack of respect, the ease of which they are disregarded and their lies are constructed is astounding, though not at all surprising. And the rape culture, the ways the investigation is reported, the girls judged and the boys lauded, the actual work the police have to do in order to make a case to be prosecuted... it's devastating.
'I hate that word. I hate it being a part of what I was.
Rape.
It brings with it connotations, assumptions, a whole steamer trunk full of other people's ideas of it, because other people only know it as a word. A concept that's discussed, argued, demonized. If you actually know what it is, if you live it and experience it and know what it is beyond a word, you have to carry that word with you. You're now "rape victim," "rape survivor." Your identity is attached permanently to a word you hate.
I'm also a murder victim, but murder carries with it what it is. People don't debate what defines murder. Politicians don't argue the body's ability to fight off being killed. There's no talk of a "murder culture." No one says that you asked for murder. What you wear doesn't excuse being killed.'
(p119)*
The emotions I went through during this novel... it was like a roller coaster with hardly any highs; anger, rage, despair, defeat, the deepest sorrow, the faintest glimmer of hope. I was distraught beyond tears, and felt ravaged by my emotions. I felt physically sick for the first half of the story. So why did I keep reading? Because, although I Stop Somewhere may be a fictional story, rape and sexual violence are a reality for countless people, and I couldn't turn away from their pain. This story may be fictional, but this is their pain, and they deserve to be seen, heard, acknowledged, believed. My reason for reading is much like Ellie's reason for haunting the house she died in.
'I realize now that I stayed because I saw myself in the other girls' eyes. I heard myself in their cries and screams. I needed to listen. I had to experience it over and over again because I needed to give them that. I needed to make sure someone was there for them. I couldn't let them suffer alone like I had.' (p212)*
This book is completely devastating, but it is so powerful, and so, so important. For those whose lives are untouched by rape, sexual assault, sexual violence, it is an education. For those who are survivors of rape, sexual assault, sexual violence, I can attest to the fact that, if you're able to read this book, you will feel seen, heard, acknowledged, believed. Hope can be found in Officer Shannon Thompson, who fights so hard and cares so much, in the community and safe space formed for survivors, in the conscience of a bystander you would never believe would ever doubt. Hope can be found in yourself, in your own strength, through how T. E. Carter makes it clear she sees you, and knows you:
'They targeted us because they thought we were weak. But even the weakest girl has power inside her. She maybe just needs a little guidance to find it.' (p257)*
I Stop Somewhere will break your heart and make you rage and leave you distraught, but it is a book that will educate, and - I believe - give strength to those who need it. I simply want to hand out this book to absolutely everyone. If you can, please do read this book. I will leave you with T. E. Carter's dedication:
'To the girls who survive,
To the girls who are found too late,
To the girls who are never found . . .
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
You are believed.'*
*All quotes have been checked against a finished edition of he book, and are correct.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

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Published: 19th April 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
T. E. Carter's Website

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1 comment:

  1. I totally agree that this is a difficult book, and it's not enjoyable in the conventional sense. It's very emotional. It made me sad and angry, and it definitely left an impression on me.

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