Book Review: #Scandal by Sarah Ockler

Book Title: #scandal
Sarah Ockler
Year of Publication: 2014
Series: N/A
#: N/A
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.56
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4


Plot Summary: Lucy Vacarro’s phone is stolen on prom night and a bunch of inappropriate pictures uploaded to her Facebook account through it. All the subjects in the pictures – along with the rest of the school – is pissed at her, and resort to an extremely dirty bullying campaign for revenge. The novel follows her as she tries to figure out who did that, tries to deal with the fall out, and tries to repair her relationship with her best friend Ellie, while simultaneously trying to deal with her feelings for Cole, Ellie’s ex boyfriend.

I picked #scandal rather randomly from a reading list without even bothering to look at the blurb. And I’m glad I did that, because blurbs often give you a mini summary that is supposed to give you pre-conceived notions about a book. And #scandal isn’t a book you can enjoy if you have pre-conceived notions about it. This is also possibly because the blurb gives off an obnoxious vibe.

Lucy Vacarro learned how to avoid the spotlight by observing celebrity Jayla Heart blah blah blah.

Stop a moment, blurb writer. Let Lucy tell me what she wants to avoid and how she does that.

#scandal is deliciously subtle in a lot of ways. One thing I’ve come to appreciate about YA fiction is the emerging diversity trend. I’m aware that there are people who mock this trend as a jumping-on-the-liberal-bandwagon kind of thing, but it’s necessary. Even if authors are doing it now because everyone else seems to be doing it, that’s a GOOD thing. Issues of race, sexuality and disability need to be visible, and not in a put ’em on a pedestal and stare at ’em kind of way. These issues need to be acknowledged as very real parts of the very real life we live.

Take Asher, the head of (E)VIL – a school society dedicated to fighting ‘vanity based technology and social networking’. Asher is a high school kid in a wheelchair, something that wasn’t immediately obvious to me because there were no neon stickers pointing to his character going “HEY THIS GUY IS DISABLED TAKE NOTE”. I happen to be the worst kind of speed reader – I skim through everything. (I really want to know what happens next, and it makes re-reads so much fun). So when something’s not pointed out to me in neon stickers and capslock, I slot those characters into the default – into all of our default, because let’s be honest, we all do it.

So Asher Holloway was white, straight, and walked on two legs, as far as I was concerned, until I figured it out halfway into the book. And I like that, because the book made me challenge my shameful assumptions, reminded me that I’m making an ASS out of UMPTION, whoever Umption might be. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that little joke, but you’re going to have to read the book to get it.) Like with Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, the reader is forced to confront intersectionality.

The major theme of this book is obviously not intersectionality, but cyber bullying. Now, I’m going to have to take the author’s word for it that American high schools work the way they’ve been portrayed in the book. That said, from all of my reading of troubling news reports on high school rapes and cyber bullying in the US of A, it does seem an at least slightly relevant portrayal. (Steubenville, anyone?)

I read a lot of reviews on GR that opined that the book hadn’t taken the issue of cyber bullying seriously. I don’t see how, to be honest. It portrayed an issue that becomes slightly meta, because everyone involved is simultaneously both victim and perpetrator. And not only does #scandal manage to get its anti-bullying message out loud and clear (mostly in the form of Asher Holloway and the rest of (E)VIL telling people it’s not okay), it also shows you how the average strong minded teenager might realistically react to nonsense being thrown at them. Lucy Vacarro is no one-dimensional heroine in the sense that she doesn’t stick to just (a) being stoic and ignoring the haters, (b) breaking down and crying all the time, or (c) getting angry and yelling at everyone. In fact, she does ALL THREE, because all three are legitimate responses that might occur to the average human being. No one is stoic through and through. No one is emo through and through either.

While maintaining that she didn’t post those pictures, Lucy also refrains from pointing fingers until she had hard proof – which turned out to be a good thing, because her guesses as to the culprit were all wrong. And despite her constantly putting herself down as a judgmental bitch, – and before you ask, yes, she is quite judgmental in a non malicious kind of way – it’s also ultimately clear that Lucy’s a very good person at heart.

The romantic aspect of the book was kind of a drag for me, but I don’t think that was the author’s fault. I just happened to be really into the whole mystery solving and fighting of social injustice aspects of the story. So I kinda got annoyed every time all the sleuthing was interrupted just so Lucy and Cole could mouth sweet nothings at each other or make out a little bit.

I noticed one GR reviewer state that Cole is definitely her New Literary Boyfriend. In my opinion, Cole’s not literary boyfriend material because we don’t really know anything about Cole except that he has a penchant for making witty remarks. You know who is literary boyfriend material though? Asher Holloway, that’s who. [Yes, that guy’s made a major impression on me. If you read the book, I’m ninety five percent sure you’ll like him too.]

In fact, with the exception of Cole, practically all the guys who’ve been introduced were awesome. Asher. Franklin, the editor of the largely unread school newspaper. John, the dude who’s going to be America’s second black president. 420 aka Lucas, school stoner and Dorito expert. I mean, Cole’s great, but he’s terribly boring and also he puts his foot in his mouth a lot.

The book touches on a number of social issues without pushing them in your face. Ellie has two awesome moms, actress and school alum Jayla Heart is forever being punished by the tabloids, Lucy (while still a minor) was hit on by an older dude at her sister’s party and then insulted for rejecting him… All issues that would merit 2000 word posts on social justice, but the book gets the message across all the same by not engaging directly with them. Instead, the reader is left with a niggling irritation that’s gotten under your skin, and which makes you examine yourself AND the story so you can figure out why you’re bothered by it.

#scandal is a great light read, especially for those who prefer YA fiction. It’s also a good take on important and relevant issues, it’s realistic, and none of its characters can be accused of being truly uni-dimensional. In short, it’s a great way to pass a few hours without having to numb your mind completely.

Next: Bibliophile Mystery #2 – If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle


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