I know it's early -- but I already have a Biggest Disappointment of 2019, and it is Those Girls, by Chevy Stevens. This rape novel is almost offensively sexist and bad -- but I finished it, anyway, as a form of public service.
Now I can spoil the plot for you, so you can save yourself time and frustrated sighs. After all, as I wrote in To Save Myself From Watching Sharp Objects, I Read a Summary of the Novel, the best way to stop yourself from getting sucked into books or TV shows you hate, just because you want to know how they end, you've got to just read the spoilers.
So here's the plot of Those Girls:
It starts out really cool -- that's how they get you. We're on a farm in Canada, where three TEENAGE GIRLS (remember, they are teenage girls... and within a few chapters, they've been abducted, tortured, and serially raped by two asshole rapists) live mostly on their own.
Their mom is dead. She got hit by a truck a few years ago. After that, their dad, who'd been a recovering alcoholic, went off the wagon. He likes to get drunk and hit his daughters. But, luckily, most of the time, he's off working on an oil rig or something.
While daddy is out of town, the girls work hard on a ranch, because that's the only way their family can afford to live in the little farm house they're in. They kind of love it. They have tan skin and strong muscles.
AND THEY'RE INTERESTING, because, unlike so many sexist, one-dimensional tropes of girls and women, THEY HAVE INTERESTS, GOALS, AND DREAMS that have NOTHING to do with men!
Jess, 14, is good at school and wants to be a photographer.
Courtney, 16, loves singing and playing guitar; she's beautiful, and wants to be a musician.
Dani, 17, has a long-term boyfriend. She loves farming more than her sisters, and wants to get married to her boyfriend and have their own farm.
Moreover, they aren't good girls. Not at all. They drink beer. They smoke cigarettes -- and pot! Dani and Courtney aren't virgins -- in fact, Courtney sleeps around like whoa!
WHICH IS INTERESTING! Because in most books I've read about teenage girls, the girls are good girls. Losing their virginity is a recurring, "Whoa! One of the three interesting things that can happen to a young woman, aside from rape and pregnancy!" theme.
(But don't worry! All three of these tired, boring tropes -- losing your virginity, getting raped, getting pregnant -- all come into play before we're halfway through the book.)
They love shooting guns and fishing, and they're so self-sufficient and independent, and it's awesome!
So then daddy comes home from the oil rig.
He's super drunk and he's super pissed, because one of his drinking buddies told him that his slutty daughter, Courtney, is sleeping with a married man. So he takes Courtney's face and burns it on a hot pan, forever marring her beauty. Then he drags her by the hair to the bathroom and begins drowning her in the toilet.
Dani gets the gun and screams at him to stop, but he doesn't.
Jess tries to pull him away from Courtney, but he elbows her in the face and splits her lip.
So, finally, as Courtney begins to die, Jess takes the gun and shoots her dad and he dies.
At this point, it's still interesting, right? Because killing your own father is complicated. On the one hand, he was murdering his daughter and it was obviously self-defense and it's awesome these girls are now free of his abuse.
On the other, he was still their dad, and they still loved him.
As Jess goes outside to hide his truck, she sees that he even brought her a birthday present (film for her camera -- which she kind of wasn't expecting, because dad was broke and a dick), and it makes her really sad.
So then the girls have to be all clever about covering up his death, because they're afraid if anyone finds out their dad is dead, Jess will go to jail for murder (even though it was clearly self-defense, and Courtney's burned face and lungs full of toilet water plus two witness statements should be more than enough to prove that), and because they're afraid they'll end up in foster care.
So they pull the bullet out of the wall, repaint the bathroom, pull up the old linoleum and hide it in a neighbor's giant hoarder junk pile, burn the bloody rags they used to clean with, bury their dad's body under a pig trough (because it never gets moved, and because the manure will cover up the smell), and dump his truck in the quarry.
This is the last even remotely intelligent any of them ever does again.
A few days later, they skip town. Their dream is to go to Vancouver and start over. Courtney has sold her guitar, because she is ugly now and she never wants to sing again. They steal some candy from a gas station, and then their truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere.
Two guys, Gavin and Brian, pull over and offer to give the girls a ride into town. One of them is a mechanic, and can help them get a good price on fixing the truck. The other's family owns a ranch, and says the girls can work on the ranch to help pay for the repairs.
He tells the girls they can camp on his ranch for free.
They say sure, but don't tell anyone we're here!
The first day is fine, but Jess doesn't like the boys and she gets mad at Dani because Jess wants to leave but Dani doesn't.
The second day is fine, too, basically. But then the guys are like, Hey, let's go to the lake and go swimming. The girls go with them. All the other teenagers at the lake seem to hate Gavin and Brian.
Gavin and Brian start to get obnoxious, trying to get the girls to drink and smoke more than they want to. Eventually, the girls storm off. The guys follow them in their truck. The girls decide to ACT like they forgive the guys, because they don't want the guys to get all weird and defensive.
The guys go home. The girls go to bed. The girls wake up to the sound of dickheads running around outside their tent. The girls decide to humor the dickheads by having one beer with them. But then the dickheads are somehow able to overpower all three girls -- who, according to their descriptions, were supposed to be all strong and stuff, and they were also carrying knives, but, okay -- enough to hogtie them in the back of their pickup truck and drive them to some remote warehouse.
There, they tie the girls (not women -- girls) to a wall by day, then rape them over and over by night. At first, they only rape the older two children, but then they decide to rape the youngest, a virgin, too.
Their bodies are all covered in blood and bite marks and stuff and it's hard for them to walk.
After several days of this, they decide to try to escape. The plan is, when it's the youngest child's turn to get raped, she's going to offer a blowjob, instead, and then if/when Gavin puts the gun down... she's going to try to grab it, I guess?
So that ends up happening, but the gun is jammed (apparently, the dickheads don't clean their guns), so she can't really use it. So she runs around this old warehouse for a while, and eventually finds her sisters. Courtney is so traumatized, she can barely walk or talk or function. The girls get in the guys' truck and drive away.
They're not sure what to do, but they think their best move is to try to get their truck back. They can't, because it's in a locked, camera-ed area and there's a dog. But a nice man who owns a pub sees them and realizes what's happened and offers to help them out. He feeds them, calls a friend in Vancouver who takes in street kids, and has his son drive the girls to the bus station.
The nice man's friend in Vancouver gets the girls an apartment and jobs at his gym. The girls deal with their trauma, kinda, by learning to box.
Four months later, Jess realizes she hasn't had her period since getting raped. Surprise -- she's pregnant!
You can basically stop reading now, because all three interesting things that can possibly happen to women have already happened. There's only one thing left to do: have the women get raped again.
So we fast-forward 17 years. Jess has decied to keep her baby, Skylar.
They all work at the gym. They're all really good boxers. They're all super strong with big muscles.
But, in Skylar's own words, Dani, Courtney, and Jess are all basically hollow shells of people, still, after all this time.
"I never thought about my mom having any hobbies or dreams... I'd found an old camera one day, hidden on the top shelf of her closet. I put it back, feeling guilty, and never asked about it."
Dani/Dallas (they changed their named when they moved to Vancouver), the girl who'd had a long-term boyfriend she loved so much and only wanted to marry him and start a farm, is incapable of forming meaningful relationships now.
Courtney/Crystal, who'd wanted to be a singer, still didn't have it in her to sing. Instead, she just does drugs and screws random dudes, many of whom are kind of abuse-y, all the time.
Jess/Jamie, the photographer, has no interests outside of her daughter. She used to be smart... now, she has a GED and sometimes looks at her daughter's homework for fun.
After a rough encounter with one of her random hookups, Courtney/Crystal decides she wants to go back to Cash Creek and kill Gavin and Brian. She doesn't tell anyone that's her plan, but Skylar figures it out. (Originally, her mom and aunts didn't tell her about Cash Creek, or that her dad was a rapist, but eventually she tricked, guilted, and manipulated them into telling her, which is so messed up. What a horrible person.)
Of course, no one believes her...
So she does what any smart person would do....
And turns off the GPS on her phone...
And drives to Cash Creek all by herself, without telling anyone where she's going, to look for her aunt.
People have seen Crystal around town, but no one's seen her in a few days. There's no sign of her at the hotel.
So Skylar makes another logical decision and decides to go to the ranch where the rapists live and ask for work. No danger with that plan!
When she notices that she and Brian have the same weird genetic mutation that makes their pinkies weird, and that she looks just like Brian's two children, she realizes she is the product of rape.
So Skylar spends a few days working on the ranch. Even though she's so strong from working at the gym, farm work is hard.
One night, she follows Gavin back to his house. It's weird, because he constantly plays really loud county music in the upstairs bedroom. Skylar sneaks into the house, but then he comes back unexpectedly, so she hides in the pantry. He eats dinner, then goes upstairs to the loud music room.
But, by some crazy coincidence, the chair he'd sat in to eat dinner is positioned in just such a way that Skylar can't open the pantry door -- what are the odds?
So then she gets stuck in there overnight, because she's afraid if she shoves the door hard enough to open it, he'll hear her. She pees on the floor. (It fits with the theme of her aunts having to poop and pee in a bucket while they were trapped in the warehouse all those years ago.)
In the morning, Gavin eats breakfast and leaves. Skylar gets out of the pantry, goes upstairs to the country music room -- and, surprise! finds her aunt there. Naked and tied to the bed. With bruises and bite marks all over her body, of course, and a bucket for shitting in.
But then Gavin comes back to the house and catches Skylar unawares. Despite her having a knife, and despite her having boxed all those years, and despite her huge muscles and stuff, she is quickly and easily overpowered. She is so scared, she pees herself.
Then she -- again, A CHILD -- is stripped from the waist down, assaulted, and tied to the bed with her aunt.
They're both gagged, so they can't talk. They just look around, all scared, and they cry.
Eventually, they get their gags off, and Crystal tells Skylar she was going to shoot Gavin down by the lake, but he must have seen the glint of her gun in the reflection of his truck or something, because instead of her just shooting him in the back of the head, she... is quickly overpowered by him and hogtied.
This plot makes no sense. But, okay.
So then Gavin comes back and rapes the aunt in front of the niece a few times. Then Gavin figures out that Brian is Skylar's father, but he kinda wants to rape her, anyway.
Crystal is able to save her from being raped by... slamming her shoulder into the bed? Which makes Gavin mad? So he decides to rape her again, instead?
Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, Jess and Dani realize Skylar is missing, and they decide to go back to Cash Creek, too. But, you know, without telling anyone where they're going or notifying the police.
They ask around town a bit, discover that both Crystal and Skylar were, in fact, both there earlier in the week.
But! At this point, they decide to go to the police.
The police don't really do much. They drive around and ask a few people some questions.
Jess and Dani go out and see Brian at a pub. He recognizes them and gets freaked out. He realizes that Gavin must have abducted Crystal and Skylar, so he goes to Gavin's house and demands that he kill them both, even though he realizes the pants-less teenager is his daughter.
Then, for some reason, they start fighting with each other. One of the men accidentally shoots the other. Skylar manages to cut the rope around her hands, so she takes off her collar and frees her aunt and they start running away. Brian is chasing them.
For some reason, instead of running out the door with her niece, Crystal decides to stay in the house and let Brian shoot her. She dies.
When Skylar runs outside, Jess and Dani are there with a gun, which they don't end up using because Crystal stabbed Brian before he shot her, so he is dead, too.
The three survivors return to Vancouver and return to being hollow, empty versions of their former selves.
A few months later, their dad's body is discovered because the pig farmer sold his property. They wouldn't have been able to identify the body, except the girls left his wallet on the corpse.
Since Courtney/Crystal is dead, they pin the murder on her and claim they know nothing about it. The police believe them.
I hope you have enjoyed this summary of Those Girls, by Chevy Stevens. If you have any insights whatsoever into what would compel someone to enjoy reading such a messed up story about empty-headed, empty-souled girls/women who are outsmarted and overpowered at every turn, PLEASE share them in the comments, because I am completely dumbfounded by this.
Like, is it like supposed to be a more extreme version of Fifty Shades of Grey? Is it supposed to be... hot? Like, rape fantasy hot or something?
Is it supposed to be interesting? Because... it really isn't. Rape is, like, the lowest-hanging fruit possible. Like, want to make something "dramatic" happen to your female character? RAPE HER!
So dumb. So boring. So lazy.
I got interested in the book, originally, because I thought it was going to be a story about clever girls doing clever things to start new lives and be empowered and stuff. Kind of like Breaking Bad, except with teenage girls instead of a chemistry teacher, and living in the city instead of building a drug empire.
So, yeah. I was super disappointed when all that happened was rape, losing virginity, pregnancy, and more rape.
If you want to read something actually interesting, I enjoyed After the End, by Amy Plum. It's about a girl who grows up in the Alaska wilderness post-WWIII, which destroyed most of civilization. Except... then her clan disappears, and she finds out the world never ended, and she's still got to find her clan.
SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING than rape, virginity, pregnancy. (Though, spoiler alert: a virginity is lost in After the End, too.)
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