Tease follows the court case following the suicide of Emma Putnam, holding the girls and boys who bullied her responsible for her death. The novel has a pulled-from-the-headlines quality, after cases such as that of Phoebe Prince, which lead to harsher anti-bullying legislation and the emergence of “bullycide” in popular conversations around bullying and aggression. Filtered through the thoughts and memories of Sara Wharton, a high school junior, the novel takes the reader through the build up to Emma’s suicide and the aftermath for those who are being held responsible. Although it is packaged like a thriller, Tease actually deals fairly movingly with how awful high school can be. Although some elements of the story, particularly the romantic plots are a little after school special-y, I think Maciel depicts with care and nuance a young woman trying to deal with issues that are just slightly beyond her emotional maturity.
Tease is painfully sad in the way that it depicts the thoughts and feelings of its teenage characters, particularly Sara, whose perspective the story is told through. Rather than demonizing the mean girls for ganging up on the new girl, the novel looks behind the aggressive behavior to the pain that causes Sara and Brielle to lash out. In some ways it’s a sentimental move, but I think it is strikingly effective and authentic in the way that it depicts the conflicting emotions Sara feels when she gives in to Brielle’s pressure, whether it comes to bullying, having sex, or smaller issues like how she dresses or speaks. By the end of the novel, Sara’s defense that everyone at school was mean so she doesn’t see why she should be held responsible for the suicide still reads as alarmingly immature, but it’s also kind of sympathetic. That’s how well the characters are constructed.
Incidentally, a book about bullying in pop culture that I contributed to is now available for purchase. Bullying in Popular Culture focuses on the depiction of bullying in film, television, and novels. My chapter addresses the codification of the “mean girl” archetype and the rules of “girl world” in movies and TV.