Canary by Rachele Alpine.
Page Count: 288 (in the ARC. Goodreads claims 400 for the hardcover).
Publication Date: August 1, 2013.
Published by: Medallion Press.
Source: Received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Staying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.
Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.
But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.
Canary is told in a mix of prose and verse.
Canary is a very important book. It is a book about being forced to maintain appearances and silence yourself to benefit others, but more than that, it is a book that tears that all down to show how important it is to speak up. It is a book that addresses society's problem of rape culture head on and not only shows how much harm it can do, but also could have the power to give a victim the strength to stand up against it.
Much of Canary is not actually about Kate's experience with sexual assault. The majority of the novel is the building of Kate's life for the reader. As Kate starts at a new school because of her father's new job as head coach of the school's championship basketball team, her life changes and grows as the story unfolds. I grew to really feel for Kate as she made friends (part of the "in" crowd, something new to her), got a boyfriend (of Beacon High's basketball elite, of course), and learned some of the lessons that everyone learns in high school. There are ups and downs but overall her life is quite normal, which makes the sexual assault all the more powerful when it happens.
With Alpine's depiction of the sexual assault in the novel, she not only reinforces that it is completely and inexcusably wrong, but she also challenges today's common narrative that the victim is to blame. I'll do my best not to spoil anything, but the circumstances around the assault are crystal clear to the reader that it was in no way Kate's fault. However, Kate spends a lot of time blaming herself, which was absolutely heartbreaking to read. She reacts in a way that I think is probably very common of victims of sexual assault. When she finally decides to share what has happened to her, the results take the broken pieces of your heart and grind them up into sand. From the assault on, this became a very painful novel, but manages to heal some of the hurt by the end.
In Canary I was very impressed by Kate's complex relationship with her family. Her mother has passed away and her father, brother, and herself are all still grieving from the loss. While Kate's grief makes her want her family closer, her father's grief has pulled him deeply into his work, so much so that her treats his high school basketball players more like family than his own children. His relationship with Kate is uncomfortable but his relationship with her brother, Brett, is rocky in its best moments. Kate and Brett have their rough patches but prove to truly be there for one another, however, as the relationship between the two men Kate cares for most crumbles in front of her, she tries her best to connect with either of them, but they both pull away from her. There is so much pain in the family and the unwillingness to deal with it from the males has made it a tough situation to work with and really helps set up how they and Kate deal with her assault later on in the novel.
Something else I think Alpine did very well was the contrast in the friendships that Kate develops over her time at Beacon. Kate and Ali's friendship begins early but is really a very trivial and superficial relationship. Boys (specifically the basketball boys) make up the majority of their conversations. They attend parties and games together, and do have the occasional sleepover, but it seems their entire focus was on getting and keeping Beacon basketball player boyfriends. I actually wrote in my notes as I was reading that I wished Kate had a stronger female friendship. I got my wish when Kate makes another girl friend later on in the novel who truly cares about who Kate is as a person. She and Kate open up to each other with honest conversation and find that they share some of the same worries and fears. It is a very supportive, caring, healthy friendship that really shows how terrible Kate's friendship with Ali is in comparison.
There really is so much more I could say about this book and how important I think it is and how much its messages matters, but this review would just go on forever. I just wish people would teach books like this one in schools because its stance on both sexual assault and the aftermath is something that society today desperately needs to see.