Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Wolves Are Waiting, by Natasha Friend

Fifteen year-old Nora finds herself lying on the golf course with no idea how she ended up there.  Last thing she remembers, she was attending a party and drinking a root beer.  In the aftermath, her best friend Cam urges her to immediately collect evidence and report the incident, but Nora doesn't want the attention.

In the ensuing weeks, Nora continues to resists her friend's entreaties.  Cam takes things into her own hands and starts investigating what happened and uncovers a tradition of sexual assault, which implicates Nora's own family.  Eventually, Nora comes around and testifies in the name of helping other victims.

Fictional, but based on actual events, the novel explores a wide variety of topics including toxic masculinity, slut shaming, sexting, fraternity hazing, college sports, and the ethics of college disciplinary practices.  None of the topics are particularly novel and the story does veer a bit into fantasy, but it is immensely entertaining and posits a few good talking points about addressing rape culture amongst high schoolers and undergraduates.  In an attempt to build a truly dramatic dilemma, Friend paints herself into an impossible situation at the end that she is unable to resolve, but that leaves a bit of poignant unfinished business that actually works in the story.

There were definitely parts of this story that put me on edge.  I really didn't like Cam's pushiness and her inability to respect Nora's privacy and her decisions.  That felt very much like a violation and Cam got off far too lightly for what was really a terribly selfish act of breaking confidentiality.  I also found Nora's conversion to activism unrealistic and her family's turnaround far too easy.  The ending was definitely rushed and sucked out a lot of the energy that the story had built up.  The "wolves" (a term which one presumes was supposed to refer to the public reaction to Nora's assault) are largely underplayed, depriving the story of much of its dramatic impact.  The end result is a surprisingly tame story.

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