Christa Desir’s Fault Line is a young adult novel about rape. It’s a fact that must be stated at the outset, yet I hesitated to begin with it, because I fear that—accurate though that statement of the book’s subject matter may be—I fear I’ve already warped your perception of it: it’s an “issues” book, it’s a brutal book, it will be difficult, emotionally draining, to read.
Yes, yes, and yes.
And yet, and yet, and yet. It’s an issues book, yes, a reliable subset of the YA universe—but it’s true to the emotional experience of its characters above all, it doesn’t offer easy answers, and it’s certainly not wrapped up in a neat bow at the end, like some after school special. It’s also a brutal book, and emotionally draining—yet never hard or unpleasant to read. On the contrary, the reader is drawn into the story from the first page, and barely allowed to set down the book until the last.
Fault Line tells the story of Ben, a popular high school kid who could have any girl in his school—but he only has eyes for Ani, the free-spirited new girl in school. She and Ben embark on a whirlwind romance, deftly and believably sketched over the space of a handful of early chapters.
Then, a crisis: one night Ani and her friend go to a party without Ben. That night, Ben is called to the hospital, where he receives the shocking news that Ani was raped. The rest of the book focuses on the devastating emotional consequences of this crime to Ani, Ben, and those around them.
One of the most fascinating choices Desir makes in this book is to tell the story exclusively from Ben’s point of view. When I discussed this decision with Desir in an interview, she cited many reasons for the choice—among which was a desire to engage a male audience in a consideration of how best to care for victims of sexual violence. It’s a daring strategy, and it pays off admirably. Ben tries his best with Ani, but he’s way over his head in a difficult situation—and at each turn, the reader is forced to ask himself or herself: What would I do in this situation? What is the best way to care for a victim of rape?
Where the book especially excels is in revealing the toxic dynamics of victim-blaming that often take place in the wake of such crimes. Some of those around Ani blame her for what happened; others seem to take her side but undermine her at times; and even Ani herself falls into a spiral of self-blame and plummeting self-worth. It’s a wrenching emotional journey, made all the more difficult by the contrast with the first half of the book—Ani before, Ani after; Ben and Ani’s relationship before, and their crumbling relationship after.
Fault Line may be a controversial book for many reasons, not least of which is the book’s strong language and sexual content. But the content is appropriate to the subject matter and the reality of the world in which teens live. Fault Line deserves to be read, analyzed, and discussed by a wide audience.