Every once and a while, a book comes around that, from the moment your eyes meet the first page, has the power to break you heart into a million pieces and break down the way you think about a subject you thought you understood. From Speak to Asking for It to The Way I Used to Be, books about sexual abuse, assault, and rape are painful, powerful reads. This year, a new novel about rape and sexual assault was released, and there are plenty of reasons you should read Age of Consent.
Author Marti Leimbach isn't afraid to tackled difficult issues in her writing — autism, single motherhood, losing a loved one to illness — but in her newest novel, she takes on an especially painful topic: sexual assault. Using a distinctive storytelling style that goes back and forth between the past and the present, Age of Consent tells the story of Bobbie, a young girl who ran away from home at 15 to escape her molester only to return home 30 years later to help bring charges against him. But Bobbie's tormentor, Craig, isn't just a evil predator from her past; he is a beloved local celebrity, her mother June's boyfriend, and her eventual stepfather. Shifting through time between 1978, when Bobbie was in Craig's predatory clutches, and 2008, when she returns home as a grown woman after learning that Craig has abused other young teens, Age of Consent offers readers the unique and unflinching experience of watching the manipulation and abuse unfold in the moment while also providing them with 20/20 hindsight that exposes the difficulties of bringing assailants to justice.
People often debate why we — as readers or viewers or general consumers — are drawn to such horrific stories, whether true or fictional. It could be because they tap into our empathy or remind us of our humanity or simple satisfy our morbid curiosities. Whatever the reason we are so interested in sad, painful stories, the reasons we need to read them are clear: books about difficult subjects like sexual abuse and rape give a voice to the real victims of the crime, those who have been affected by it and changed because of it. These books help tell an important but often ignored story. More importantly, though, books like Age of Consent can help start a conversation about issues that are otherwise difficult to talk about but impossible to ignore. They can be an accessible starting point in a seemingly unacceptable conversation, a specific backdrop to a general talk about things considered "taboo," and a frame for a frank discussion about real issues facing real people all over the world.
This summer brought with it plenty of incredible books, from chilling thrillers to perfect beach reads, but here are three reasons to read Age of Consent, a painful yet powerful book that shouldn't be ignored.
1. Age of Consent reminds readers that trauma doesn't have an expiration date.
In Age of Consent, Bobbie is a woman in her forties who returns home after 30 years to revisit the pain of her past. Those around her, including her own mother, believe she is just an grown woman with a vendetta or a woman who seeks attention. The story itself is proof that there is no expiration date on the trauma of sexual assault. Just because something happened in the past doesn't mean it isn't a part of the present. For Bobbie, staying away from home — the place where it all happened and the person who made it happen — for three decades still wasn't enough to fully heal the wounds of the sexual trauma she endured as a youth. Years later, those scars of her past still dictated so much of her present, and even more of her future.
For anyone who thinks rape victims that come forward years later for ulterior reasons, whether it be money, fame, or attention, Age of Consent reminds them of a simple thing: pain runs deep and long, and there is no telling how long it stays with a person.
2. It shows how damaging — and how dangerous — victim blaming can be.
When Bobbie returns home to bring Craig to justice, she isn't met with cheers for her bravery or support for her courage, but rather suspect, blame, and guilt. To her own mother and to other members of the community and even to Craig himself, Bobbie wasn't an innocent victim — she was a young teenager who enjoyed what happened between her and her abuser, and she is as much to blame for the inappropriate relationship as Craig is. But that narrative couldn't be further from the truth, and Age of Consent proves it.
By showing how the sexual abuse starts, but diving into all of the manipulation, the fear, the sadness, and control that was a part of the ongoing torment of Bobbie, Age of Consent illustrates that sexual assault, sexual abuse, and rape are never the fault of the victim, but the fault of the abuser and of the society that allows for such things to happen. By allowing readers into the mind of a young Bobbie, the novel explains how a young girl can be forced into a terrifying situation of sexual abuse, and by throwing readers into the mind of an adult Bobbie, it shows how damaging and dangerous victim blaming and the acceptance of rape culture can be.
3. It illustrates the many different forms of abuse.
Bobbie's torment — physical, sexual, and mental — is laid out in excruciating, first-hand detail in a way that exposes the truth about the many different forms abuse can take. From his control over her life to his manipulation of her world to his physical acts of violence and assault, Craig's abuse was complicated, dark, and dangerous. This book highlights how sexual assault can be an entire set of manipulation and abuses that affects every part of the victim's life.
Age of Consent is enough to make you cry, to make you rage, and to make you want to stand up and do something so there's never another Bobbie again. Now that's what I can a powerful, albeit painful, read. Are you ready to take on the challenge?
Age of Consent by Marti Leimbach, $18.36, Amazon