Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Let's Talk | Blaming the Victim in Say You'll Remember Me by Katie McGarry

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault  (Unwanted Groping) and Sexual Harassment 

A couple weeks ago, I read Katie McGarry's Say You'll Remember Me. I've read other books my McGarry and enjoyed them, and I thought I would enjoy her newest release. Unfortunately, I was taken aback by how McGarry handled instances of sexual assault and harassment. I am shocked that such blatant victim blaming was allowed in the book, and that the sexual assault and harassment were used as mere plot devices for the two leads to become closer. 

One of the most blatant examples of victim blaming comes halfway through the audiobook, when Ellison, the main character, is sexually groped by a politician at an event. When she leaves the room to take a breath of air, she is chastised by one of her peers, Andrew, for interacting with the man who assaulted her. Andrew tells her that Ellison should have known better, and shouldn't have talked to the assaulter. First, the assaulter approached her, and she didn't know how to get out of the situation, considering that the attacker was in a power of position, and was potentially financing Ellison's father's run for senate. Then, after Andrew leaves, her love interest, Hendricks, comes up. When the approach the topic of Ellison's assault, he says, "That asshole touched you, and you let him." Ellison, in her inner thoughts, concedes to this point, stating how she did not verbally or physically protest the groping. In these interactions, readers are told that it is their fault if they are assaulted. The message in these scenes are clear: Ellison should have known better, and because she didn't verbally or physically protest, she is at fault for her own assault. The way this was handled was, frankly, horrifying. We should never put any of the blame on victims, no matter the situation, and I'm surprised that through rounds of edits that the assault was handled better.

Before this scene, a pattern of sexual harassment and assault against Ellison was established. Early in the book, Ellison goes to a fair. She was supposed to be with Andrew (aforementioned peer), but because they don't get along, they went their separate ways. While she was walking through the fair, she is followed by a pair of college men who taunt her. They first tell her how beautiful she is, and when she doesn't give them any attention, they begin to tell her what they want done to them sexually, and grab their crotches. Ellison eventually gets away from them, only for them to later follow her. At this point, Ellison has met Hendricks, her love interest. Hendricks helps Ellison, and is labeled a hero. From there on, Hendricks wants to continue to be Ellison's hero. When she is sexually assaulted at the aforementioned party, Hendricks' remarks being jealous that Andrew swooped in, claiming that he wanted to be Ellison's hero. This situation is problematic for a few reasons, as detailed below.
  1. Ellison's sexual assault and harassment are plot points that allows Hendricks, the male love interest, to be a hero. The attention is not on what Ellison is experiencing and how the actions of the three men are horrific, but on how wonderful and valiant Hendricks is. This shows that Katie McGarry isn't adding in the sexual assault and harassment to make a statement on today's society, but is adding it in as a plot point to further along the romantic relationship of the two protagonists. 
  2. Hendrick's is labeled as a "hero," for doing something morally just. Men shouldn't be applauded for doing something decent, like interfering when someone is being harassed or assaulted. Yes, it is great that Ellison was able to remove herself from both situations with the help of others, but we shouldn't commend others for doing what should be expected, which is to help in any way they can. 
  3. Since a pattern of harassment and assault was established a the fair scene, and then later when Ellison remarks that she had called her brother in the past when something similar happened to her before, it is even more troubling that Ellison and others put the blame on her. Hendricks says he wants to be her hero, as he was labeled after the fair incident, and yet he blames Ellison the next time something similar happens. By having Hendricks labeled as a hero, readers are more likely to disregard his later response, or even think it is appropriate. 
This past year, there has been a rising conversation on sexual assault, whether in Hollywood, the political sphere, or everyday life. While strides are being made, books like Say You'll Remember Me are flying under the radar despite the problematic content. The novel has a 3.99 average rating on goodreads, and a large majority of the reviews love Ellison and  Hendricks' relationship. As reviewers, I believe it is our responsibility to call out novels for their problematic content, in hopes of bettering the community, the books we read, and the morals they teach. There are young adult novels that have much healthier relationships, and I urge you to look elsewhere if you want to read a contemporary romance. 

Have you read Say You'll Remember Me? What did you think? Let's discuss!

Thanks so much for stopping by, and I'll see you soon with another post!

Happy Reading!

Genni @ Ready, Set, Read!


  1. This is an amazing post, Genni. Wow. I've been eager to read this book, but I didn't realise just how problematic it is. It sounds terrible; I can't believe the author actually wrote this and no one else pointed it out to her! What you've described is so messed up, and so unfortunately typical in many YA books these days. It makes me furious.

    Thank you for writing this post! <3

    1. Thank you Amy!! I was so surprised when I started listening to it. I looked at reviews, and didn't find any that mentioned the victim blaming. It makes me wonder how much problematic content in other contemps went over my head as well. I definitely know there's some out there, especially in books I read when I was 14 or 15 years old!

  2. Thanks for sharing this Gennifer! This- "Hendrick's is labelled as a "hero", for doing something morally just"- um yes anyone decent SHOULD step in, it shouldn't be a novelty or make someone a hero. It should be common sense? Agree completely. I can totally see why this would be a problem, and the victim blaming too.

    1. You're welcome!! And thank you for your comment! I know some people are afraid to step in, or don't feel like they should, but I think we should hold bystanders accountable.

  3. I haven't read this yet (I was considering it because I've also read and enjoyed McGarry's work before) but now I think I'll take it off of my TBR. I don't understand how the author could write something like this! I completely agree: why isn't the focus placed on the man who did the assaulting (because clearly he grew up with the wrong ideals) instead of the victim? This is such an important post, Genni, so thank you for sharing!

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

    1. I don't understand either Laura! I was completely taken aback when I got to that part in the audiobook. Thank you so much for stopping by Laura! :D

  4. Wow, I'm ashamed to say I read this book and let this go right over my head. I will say that I'm pretty sure Andrew was just supposed to be a jerk, so his words and actions weren't being condoned, but you make a good point about Hendricks' words. (So far as I remember---I read the book a long time ago) I took the scene to be Hendricks pointing out that Ellison doesn't stand up for herself because she wants to please her parents. And he's trying to tell her that it's not okay for her to suffer abuse in order to make them happy. But when you take the exact quote out of context it does sound pretty horrible---and I feel like I'd have go back and reread the scene to know for sure how I feel about the overall message there. I don't think it's necessarily wrong to teach young girls that they shouldn't stand idly by while someone abuses them simply for the sake of politeness or appearances.

    No matter what, though, you make a VERY valid point. Even if the overall goal was to get Ellison to see that she has every right to stand up for herself, it should have been expressed in a MUCH better way. Gosh, now I feel like I need to go reread that part! (And I definitely agree about the hero trope---that's often overplayed, and he shouldn't need to be applauded for being a decent human being. I think in this case, it was more the juxtaposition of the fact that people didn't EXPECT him to be a decent human being because they had preconceived notions of who he is based on his rap sheet.)

    Sorry for the long comment! Thanks for this thoughtful discussion of the book!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. No, don't apoligize for a long comment! I loved it!

      I also agree that Andrew was meant to be a jerk, and that his comments and actions reflect that. I was more upset that Ellison takes the comments and doesn't fight back. Like you said, her reaction could have shown that she never stands up for herself, but I wish there was a point later in the book that then addressed she wasn't at fault. If there was a later scene where it was acknowledged that those responses were wrong, I would have been much more forgiving! I agree that out of context it sounds horrible, but even with good intentions, I don't think McGarry used the correct language. As you said, Katie McGarry could have gotten that same point across in a different and much better way.

      If you reread the part, let me know! I'd love to know what you think of it with a fresh mind. I listened to the audiobook, so though I wrote down immediately what I heard, it would be difficult for me to find the exact context.

      I like your point about the juxtaposition of expectation versus reality. Hendricks was always underestimated throughout the novel and had to push back against those expecations. What also struck me in those scenes was that no one but Hendricks did anything. All of the witnesses on the Midway and later at the party, and everyone just stood there. While realistic (Kitty Genovese's case comes to mind), it was also emphasized Hendrick's "heroic" qualities.

      Thank you so much for visiting and for participating in the discussion!

  5. I read this one a few months back, and I didn't enjoy it at all. The message was definitely problematic, and I found it so hard to empathize with the heroine because of this. Plus yes, victim blaming sucks, and it's bothersome to call someone a hero for doing something that should be NORMALIZED. :/ Thanks for this--bookmarking it to add to my monthly wrap up! ♥

    - Aimee @ Aimee, Always

    1. Hi Aimee! Thanks for adding it to your monthly wrap up! After hearing her give in so easily and agree with Hendricks and Andrew, I was livid. I was really hoping that in the third act she would have a change of heart and see the situation in a different light. Thanks for visiting! :)