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Radiant Shadows

The S-Word

The S-Word - Chelsea Pitcher The S-Word was an interesting read that won’t sit well with many readers. Covering issues like slut-shaming, gender inequality and suicide, among others, it’s not always an easy read. While I appreciated what The S-Word tried to accomplish by covering such heavy topics, in many ways, but especially thanks to its apathetic narrator and disjointed dialogue, it failed. Fortunately I appreciated the suspense surrounding the mystery of the leaked diary pages and found the narrator’s voice, while distant at times, to resonante nonetheless.With the amount of novels that include some version of slut-shaming, whereby females are made to feel ashamed by exploring their sexuality for having any kind of sexual experience outside of what’s deemed to be an appropriate female encounter, I was really interested to see how The S-Word reversed that mentality by uncovering the truth behind Lizzie’s betrayal. Having been deemed a “slut” for sleeping with her best friends’ boyfriend, Lizzie was systematically dehumanized by her peers and eventually defined by who she had been (rumoured-to-be) intimate with, making her peers feel like they could treat her as something less than human. The reason I think The S-Word struggled to accomplish this reversal of Lizzie’s dehumanization by leaking out the truth using pages of her diary as clues, was, in part, thanks to it’s disjointed dialogue. Sentences were often poorly constructed, interrupting the flow of the story. At times, it read like a stereotypical portrayal of teen speak, while at other times, it read like a scholarly journal on gender issues and female sexuality. I was constantly being told, by Angie, how something was unfair or biased against women, in a way that made it feel like the author was merely using The S-Word as her soapbox to express her commentary on the issues at hand. While I wouldn’t necessarily use the word preachy, it definitely walked that line.This telling versus showing style of writing is not one I overly enjoy, nor do I find it successful at demonstrating the issues in a clear and authentic light. But what further complicated The S-Word’s style was Angie’s detachedness as a narrator. For someone who has just lost her childhood best friend, to a suicide she is feeling more and more guilty about, after the deepest kind of betrayal one can experience from a best friend, I expected Angie to be a dynamic character who showed us the full range of grief, anger and despair. Instead, she was cold and calculating. Had she shown growth as a character, and moved past the detached numb stage, I could have understood her a bit better. Instead, her narration read merely as someone interested in solving a mystery, which took away from the overall impact of The S-Word’s story. This cold detachedness is also the reason I found myself surprised when she confessed to having feelings for a certain boy, who, even now, remains an enigma to me. The way in which she let the reader know that she had developed romantic feelings was much like the way in which someone might comment on the weather: in passing, without much fanfare. It was quite strange, further adding to the distance I felt between Angie and her story.However, I did find myself truly enjoy The S-Word’s plot. It read as a fantastic mystery novel, with decent pacing and slowly leaked clues that kept me gripped to the pages. While I did guess at one of the plot twists, much of what happened, especially towards the ending, was a welcome surprise. And while I found myself distanced from Angie, I also found that much of what she was preaching saying, still resonated with me as a reader.I actually kind of wish they would stop. Even whispered quietly, that word has the power to turn your stomach. But maybe that’s why it’s important to say it out loud. Maybe we can’t be afraid of talking about it if we ever want it to stop.I appreciated her honesty, if nothing else, and that was always something you could count to be told rather bluntly.His arms go around me in that soft way of theirs, but they’re not wings this time. They’re just arms. He’s just a boy. And love isn’t the answer to all my problems because this isn’t a fucking fairy tale.And while I didn’t always connect with her on an emotional level, a part of me did feel the pain of her boyfriends’ betrayal when she was able to show moments of weakness.You don’t fall out of love with someone just because he betrays you. That love stays inside you, battling against the hate. Right now my love is battling my hate so hard I can barely breathe, and all I want to do is get away from him.Or fall into him.While I won’t argue that the execution wasn’t flawed, I will argue that many of Angie’s messages are ones that YA needs to focus on: words are powerful and should be treated as such; sexuality is fluid and can’t be contained by generic labels; hate breeds hate; and so on.If you haven’t already figured it out, The S-Word was quite a confusingly enjoyable read. On the one hand, the plot pulled me long relentlessly, and I got so caught up in the mystery elements that most of the issues I’ve mentioned, fell to the wayside. On the other, when I was pulled out of the suspenseful plot, I was quickly reminded of how many issues The S-Word had, and how miserably it was failing at overcoming them. Like I said, The S-Word won’t be for every reader, but I do think that there will be a niche group of readers who adore it for what it does succeed at.