Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf by Hayley Krischer

   Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf by Hayley Krischer, Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 9780593114117, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book?  Krischer tackles an important topic with this book and the opening is both compelling and disturbing. Junior Ali Greenleaf sneaks out to attend a party, expecting to run into her long-time crush Sean Nessel. Despite her attraction to him, the experience goes horribly wrong; the addition of alcohol turns what is initially a pleasurable hook-up into a physically abusive rape. What’s unique about this book is that the story alternates between Ali’s perspective and that of popular and beautiful Blythe, who is also scarred by nonconsensual sex. Blythe harbors a long-standing attraction to Sean, and initially urges Ali to disregard the seriousness of the crime. As time passes, Ali becomes more self-assured in her assessment of the trauma she’s experienced and in how she intends to address it, while Blythe’s certainty about everything crumbles. I liked that both girls felt confused over their own sexual feelings; that part seemed very realistic to me. By addressing the role that silence and bystanding play in both shaming rape victims and perpetuating rape culture, Krischer bravely asks teens to look at their own complicity in creating this harmful dynamic. The book concludes with a list of resources for sexual assault victims and the author’s revealing back story about her personal experience with assault.

Anything you didn’t like about it? After an engrossing start, the book diluted its impact by incorporating too many other characters and plot lines. Instead of a deep dive into Ali and Blythe, our attention is diverted by the other members of Blythe’s Core Four of mean girls and Ali’s BFFs Rav and Sammi (none of whom ever develop enough personality to break out of their sidekick status). It’s promising that Ali and Blythe initially bond over their absent moms, but aside from that, we learn very little about either character. School is literally just a bathroom, a hallway and some lockers; despite being seniors, the Core Four apparently have no college applications due and none of the students in the novel do any school work whatsoever. About halfway through the book, the story lost its focus. Instead of sticking with Ali and Blythe, a series of distractions pulled the reader into a host of other issues: drug use, bullying, romantic entanglements, friendship issues, parent-child relationships, even therapy. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  Libraries need books for teens addressing rape, so I can’t say I wouldn’t have this one just because the literary element was wobbly. I think other books do a better job; I would recommend Exit, Pursued by a Bear (2016) by E.K. Johnston and Notes on a Silencing: A Memoir (2020) by Lucy Crawford over this book.

Who should buy this book? High school or public libraries. The book does carry a trigger warning for sexual assault and drug abuse.

Where would you shelve it? YA

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 2, 2021

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