This YA Novel Aims To Teach Men How To Stop Perpetuating Rape Culture
In their award-winning novel All American Boys, co-authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely gave readers more than a timely problem novel about racism and violence; they used their powerful story to encourage young readers to figure out who they were and what they truly stood for. Now, in his solo upcoming YA novel, New York Times bestselling author Brendan Kiely is once again asking readers the examine tough issues in a meaningful way with Tradition, a compelling new novel about male privilege, consent, and finding the courage to do what is right.
At Fullbrook Academy, an elite prep school for the powerful and prestigious, nothing matters as much as tradition. Unfortunately, the most sacred ones are also the most dangerous. Jules Devereux knows this, but try as she might to avoid them, her peers, especially her ex-boyfriends and ex-friends, are determined to make sure she falls in line and plays by the rules of their old boys' club. Even though Jamie Baxter, a star hockey player, benefits from their school's system that rates female students based on their looks, he feels like an imposter. He is just as desperate as Jules to escape. When the two classmates meet, it doesn't take long for them to feel a connection, but the pressure for Jules and Jamie to stay quiet about what really happens at Fullbrook is almost more than the pair can handle, and they must make a decision: Are they strong enough to stand up to their peers and their institution together, or will they just be another part of the tradition?
A stunning exploration of the dark side of tradition, the toxicity of male privilege, and dangerous effects of rape culture, Tradition pushes readers to ask tough questions about not only the destructive nature of sexual violence, but about what role they play in perpetuating it.
"The boarding school culture Jules and Bax are up against in Tradition mirrors our broader society — it’s riddled with insidious and deeply entrenched misogyny — and I wanted to write about people who challenge that status quo," Tradition author Kiely tells Bustle "I wanted to write about the strength of women who stand up and speak out about misogyny, and also, especially as a man writing this book, I wanted to write a novel that asked, 'How can men be better feminists?'"
If you're dying to sink your teeth into this extraordinary novel, you'll have to be patient, because Kiely's YA doesn't hit shelves until May 1. In the meantime, you can whet your appetite for social justice and empowerment with Bustle's exclusive cover reveal and excerpt for Tradition below:
For the record . . .
Most people don’t get second chances. I wasn’t sure I deserved one. I wasn’t sure I even wanted one. But I got one: Fullbrook Academy. This is what I did with it.
I once heard another girl put it like this: This is a boys’ school and they accept girls here too. At Fullbrook, they told us to be ready to take on the world, but then they told us to do it quietly. What if I wanted to be loud? What if I needed to be?
The night everything changed . . .
I’m fighting for breath and all I can do is look up and see the white flame of moonlight outlining each branch, every leaf. I’m in the dirt, again, shoulder against the tree, the shock of air so cold it seizes my bones. I can still feel his grip on my arm, as if he’s still here, shackling me to the trunk with his hands and his weight, but he’s not. He’s gone. I’m so cold. I’m shaking, but it feels like it’s this tree and the sky above that are shaking, that are blurry, unreal, no longer what they were. It’s as if I’m naked, but I’m not. It’s as if the ground is swinging up to slap me, but it’s not. I collapse by the edge of the bluff. There are still voices in the woods behind me. Voices down along the far end of the bluff. Voices in the night air like invisible birds screeching in the wind.
There’s a voice inside me, too. It’s mine, I think, but it doesn’t sound like me. It’s me and it’s not me. It grows louder and louder, barking, bellowing up from somewhere and squeezing my head with noise. It’s me and it isn’t, or it’s me splitting in two, and this other voice, this new voice, keeps shouting. Run, it says. Run, run, run.
It’s me and it isn’t, or it’s me splitting in two, and this other voice, this new voice, keeps shouting. Run, it says. Run, run, run.
I’m so close to the cliff edge, I could crawl forward and drop, crouch on one knee by the side of the pool like I did when I first learned to dive, but I’m hundreds of feet in the air, and the voice tells me to back up. I obey. It tells me to stand, and I use the tree to help me to my feet. Run, it says again, and I do, into the woods, down the far path, away from the party, away from the other voices, away from everyone. I know where I’m going, but I still feel lost. Alone. I just want to get home, though the word means nothing now. Just because I live there doesn’t mean it’s somewhere safe.
I can’t believe this, but I’m so out of breath I have to crouch down and lean against the back wall of the girls’ dorm, just to put some air in my lungs. Damn, it hurts. But you can’t lug a passed-out person through the woods, across campus, get her up through the bathroom window, and not want to collapse. Even if you’re me. And even if I did get some help.
I know she thinks I’m an asshole, and I didn’t do it to change her mind. I just did it because it was the right thing to do and I knew it was the right thing to do, and it was the first time in a year I’d felt so certain I knew right from wrong—that I had to do the right thing and forget all the rest.
If you care about a person, my ex-girlfriend used to tell me, don’t just tell her. Show her. Show up, listen, and act so she knows you heard her. Seems so simple the way she put it, but it’s never that simple. An avalanche of other pressures buries that wisdom most days, all days, except this night, when, for some reason, I heard that advice strong and true, like a wind through the eaves of the old wooden rooftop above me.
Way up in the sky the man in the moon has something like sad eyes, as if his pale face gazes down with pity, as if he wishes something better for us, or maybe wishes we ourselves were the ones who were better. I’m sure I’m sober, not drunk, just going a little crazy to think like that, but I think it anyway, because I feel that way. Sad. Like this whole stupid paradise, this very good school, is nothing but a fancy promise, a broken one, a big lie. And worse, that I’m actually a part of it.
In the mess of my first day at Fullbrook I had one clear thought: I do not belong here. I didn’t have the right clothes, the right hairstyle, the right way to speak. I didn’t even know I had no clue about any of those things until I stood on the sidewalk outside my new home, boys’ dorm number 3, Tapper Hall, and watched the families swirling around the residential quad. The seniors managing Move-In Day strolled around in their soft-toed loafers, their linen jackets and ties, relaxed and carefree, putting parents at ease with the smiles they tossed to each other across the walkways and grass. I watched, amazed, as some of the freshmen plucked those smiles out of the air and tried them on for themselves. They were naturals.
Not me. I was the eighteen-year-old moron starting all over again at a new high school. A fifth year—postgraduate, they call it, to be kind.
“Hey,” one of the linen jackets said, approaching me. “You must be the Buckeye.” All I wanted to do was hide, but the sun was a spotlight burning down through the leaves of the tree above me. When I didn’t respond, he continued. “They told me you were an athlete from Ohio.” He grinned. “Just look at you. You got to be the Buckeye. Hey, Hackett,” he yelled over his shoulder. “Found the Buckeye.”
I tried to look natural but I never knew what to do with my hands. That’s why I’d grown up holding a stick or a ball or a dumbbell—they gave me direction and purpose. I clasped my fingers behind my back, and ended up looking like some keyed-up military man. I even had the stupid buzz cut.
All these guys had hair they had to style. Especially the guy walking up to us, the one called Hackett. These guys looked like they flossed their teeth with the kind of money I’d make in a summer working Uncle Earl’s farm. The short guy with a pit bull’s bulging shoulders and flat-faced grin, and his taller friend, the shaggy-haired pretty boy, the one called Hackett.
These guys looked like they flossed their teeth with the kind of money I’d make in a summer working Uncle Earl’s farm.
“What’s up?” I didn’t mean to sound standoffish, but I did. It comes too easy. I’m the kind of guy people expect to punch holes through walls—not because I want to, just because I can.
“Freddie.” The pit bull stuck out his hand. I took it.
The hippie looked on, sleepy eyed. “Hackett,” he said, without taking his hands from his pockets. “Ethan Hackett.”
“Hackett and I,” Freddie continued, “we’ve been assigned to you. All the new guys get a mentor to show them the ropes. Mostly freshmen, of course, but there are a couple PGs this year. So whatever, you’re one of the new guys.”
“We actually picked you, Buckeye,” Hackett went on.
“Ha!” Freddie barked. “No, I got assigned to you because I play real sports too. Hackett thinks skiing is a sport.”
“Ignore him,” Hackett said. “He has a limited vocabulary.”
Freddie pushed Hackett, who stumbled, but balanced himself quickly. “See,” Hackett said, smiling. “Guy talks with his fists.”
“Back home everyone called me Jamie,” I said, trying to say something.
“Yeah, great,” Freddie said. “Drop those last two bags in your room, Buckeye.” He wiped a broad arc in the air. “We’ll show you around.”
Freddie urged me on, slapping me on the shoulder, pushing me through the dorm. He and Hackett walked down the hall throwing those smiles, shaking hands with parents and freshmen along the way. “Welcome to Fullbrook!”
They could have been running for office.
Once we’d dumped the bags and were back outside, Freddie led us up the street between the dorms. “Girls,” he pointed.
“Girls. Boys.” He grinned. “We’ll get to the girls themselves later.”
“Cool,” I said, trying to follow him. I was taking in the sweep of scenery, the narrow, zigzagging paths winding through clusters of trees, connecting one brick mansion to another. The blue day—even the watery reflections in the stained-glass windows seemed curated, cultivated, perfected. History was everywhere, looming over me like the long, leafy branches casting shadows over the walkway.
“Hear you’re a football player.”
A sliver of pain sliced through me. “Was.” Football was out. That life was over. One play and it was as if I’d ripped a hole in the ground and pulled my whole town down into the darkness below. “I’m here for hockey.”
My second sport. The one my family, Coach Drucker, and the handful of people who still talked to me back home all told me was my ticket up and out. Kid like you deserves a second chance, I’d been told.
“Yeah, yeah. I know,” Freddie went on. “You’re the new secret weapon. But this is fall. Football, football, football.” He stutter-stepped, threw a fake left, and rolled around Hackett. He got a few paces ahead of us, stopped, and turned back. “What I mean is, Coach O would give his left nut to have you on the football team. What’d you play?”
“Damn. That’s what we need, man! A defensive line. Blitz pressure. Sacks.”
He rambled on, setting nerves on fire beneath my skin. I hadn’t been on campus for an hour, and already I could hear the echoes from back home. What the hell’s the matter with you, Jamie?
“Look at you. Must have racked up a hell of a hit count. We scratch ours in rows on our lockers.” He bumped me with his shoulder. “Hit, hit, hit.” He nodded. “You know wassup.”
“Why aren’t you playing?”
I searched for something that wouldn’t sound as awful as the truth. “Grades,” I lied.
“For real?” Freddie said. “You have to do it all here, Buckeye. Do it all. Be it all.”
We crossed another street and Hackett pointed to a tree in front of the administration building. “Oldest tree on campus,” he said. “I don’t know, 250 years old, something like that.” He pointed to a break between branches. From where we stood looking up, the branches perfectly framed the engraved lettering in the arch above the front door of the administration building. It was Latin, which I only guessed because of the weird V for a U.
“That’s right,” Hackett said. “‘Ut parati in mundo.’ Ready to take on the world, we say.” He grinned at Freddie.
“Are you screwing with me?”
“No,” Freddie said. He rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, it’s corny as hell,” Hackett continued. “They’ll take the whole freshman class here and show them this. They’ll talk about the tree, its deep roots, its soaring branches,” he said, dropping his voice cartoonishly. “They’ll point to the school motto and remind them what it means to join the Fullbrook legacy.”
“Corny,” Freddie echoed. “Now let’s get to the real shit.”
Ready to take on the world? I’d seen the motto when I’d visited the previous spring. Everybody at Fullbrook seemed like a genius to me, already worldly, already honing their special skill, building robots, singing arias, starting their own tech company. I wasn’t ready to do one night’s homework. I wasn’t ready to tie a tie. What did I do? I could stop a puck from passing between the pipes—but I had to make it all the way to winter before anybody would care about that.
They swung me around the administration building and into the academic quad. The lawn in the center was as long and wide as three football fields combined. In fact, Fullbrook might as well have been a college campus. It had the multimillion-dollar sports complex, physics lab, arts center, and global studies buildings to prove it, not to mention the two-hundred-year-old redbrick mansions and halls housing all the other classrooms and offices. At the far end of the lawn, at the edge of the forest that surrounded the campus, were the baseball and football fields. But next to the sports complex, set slightly apart, as if to show off that it was there in the first place, was the hockey rink.
“That’s it,” Freddie said, pointing to the small stadium. “That’s where it’s all going down this year. I swear we’re making it to States.” The roof over the rink was concave, and because the great lawn sloped toward it, the entire building seemed sunk into the ground, the forest rising above it in the distance. The gleaming roof caught and threw back the light of the sun.
“Yeah, right,” Hackett said.
“Not football, maybe,” Freddie conceded. “We’re too small.” He eyed me. “But hockey? Hell, yes.” He clamped down on my shoulder. “We got our new secret weapon, right here. New goalie. My man, the Midwestern Monster.”
That nickname stuck like a fishbone in my throat. I was speechless.
He laughed and I forced a weak smile in return. “I know Coach O’s got to be talking to you about playing football, too,” he continued. “We need a line, man.”
Coach O’Leary wasn’t. He wasn’t supposed to. Football was out. Instead, we were supposed to meet the next day to begin planning my off-season training. I had to get decent grades, show the college world I was worth its time. I had to be ready to show my stuff this winter. I’d been All-State junior year, but I hadn’t played senior year, so everybody needed to see that I was the goalie they all believed me to be. Coach O was counting on me. Back home, my folks were counting on me, and Coach Drucker. My old principal, too. Even Uncle Earl. This winter, everything was on the line.
I’d been sitting behind the folding table for nearly two hours before I realized that if I was going to give away any pamphlets at all, I was going to have to get off my butt and start handing them out. It had been a battle to get my request taken seriously in the first place and an even bigger one to get it approved. When it finally was, I was hopeful enough to think it might be a smash hit. I was wrong.
At first, a few people took pamphlets from me without even looking. I didn’t mind that. As long as they had them—that was the point. But others were more hostile.
“Please. We don’t need that,” a mother of a first year said to me, using her forearm to block me from handing her daughter one of my pamphlets.
I offered her my hey, I’m just saying half smile, but she pushed past me. “I’m trying to be helpful,” I called after her, but they hurried toward the dorm. I shook my head and turned back to the street. There was a line of cars parked haphazardly along the curb.
Parents fumbling with bags and plastic storage bins. Girls with their heads bent toward their phones, which wouldn’t last long at Fullbrook—they were pretty strict about no phone usage, when they could enforce it. Move-In Day was an exception, of course.
I tried another first year by her family’s car. “There’s a lot of important info in here,” I told her.
She took it and thanked me.
“You excited?” I asked her.
She nodded. “Yeah,” she eventually got out. She did look excited—but also nervous. I could see the sweat already wrinkling the pamphlet I’d just given her.
“HPV vaccines, Plan B, body image counseling,” I said. “Better to know than not know.”
The girl’s face went fifty shades of red and, as if she had a sixth sense for that kind of thing, her mother poked her head over her daughter’s shoulder. She glanced down at the pamphlet and read the bright pink header: Women’s Health. She gently pulled the pamphlet from her daughter’s fingers, looked at it briefly, then cocked her head and glared at me.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Do you think this is appropriate?”
“Our health?” I asked. “Of course, right?”
“Birth control? Condoms?”
“Well, that’s part of it. We have to be safe and stay protected. But there’s so much else in the pamphlet. The health center has a dedicated specialist for women’s health, and she’s a resource for—”
“What’s your name?” she snapped.
“Jules Devereux. I’m a senior and I run the—”
“I’m going to get to the bottom of this immediately.” She grabbed her daughter’s hand and yanked her down the walkway toward Mary Lyon Hall.
I’d suspected the first day back at Fullbrook was going to be tough, so I’d made a plan to give the day a boost from the jump: I’d gotten in an early swim and I’d made a serious dent in my paper on the summer reading, and with all that forward momentum, I’d psyched myself up for pamphleting. I’d wanted to do it the last two years, but nobody would agree to do it with me. Finally, I decided I’d just have to do it myself. I didn’t realize how much it was going to suck doing it alone.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Do you think this is appropriate?”
“Our health?” I asked. “Of course, right?”
I’d gone to the trouble of donning what I called my 1950s Catholic school outfit, because I knew Mrs. Attison would appreciate the “attitude and decorum,” as she’d say, even though it was sunny and warm, the kind of day that made you wonder why wool sweaters had ever been invented. So while maybe Mrs. Attison looked on with a dash of approval—hard to tell with her; she always held herself like one of those stone-faced people in a nineteenth-century daguerreotype—I wasn’t sure it was worth it. I needed to get some of my classmates to join me so I didn’t look like some fringe radical—which I wasn’t. All I was doing was passing out health center flyers, not trying to induct first years into some hedonistic, druggy sex cult.
“Want to help?” I asked Shriya, as she approached. I’d seen her at the pool earlier too, training hard. I wasn’t on the team like she
was, so I hadn’t wanted to bother her there. Now she was dressed like she was going to an interview: a gray pencil skirt and heels and a blouse as black as her hair. I held the bundle in the air and waved it at her—almost making fun of myself with mock extra enthusiasm.
She glanced ahead, over my shoulder to the dorm. “I can’t.” She hesitated and avoided looking at me. “I’m already helping with the tours.” She flashed a fake smile. “With Gillian, obviously.”
And of course there was that, too. Last year I’d told Shriya there didn’t have to be a split. She didn’t have to choose sides. But that was dumb. Of course there were sides. There are always sides, and she didn’t choose mine.
I took a deep breath. I wanted to show her it didn’t hurt as much as it did—or maybe I just wanted to fool myself. “It’s cool,” I said, as she was walking away. I shrugged and didn’t know why. It’s not like anybody had made me come out here to pass out the pamphlets. I just wanted to do something good for the community.
It took all of no time for the mother who was pissed at me to find Mrs. Attison on the front steps of Mary Lyon. They’d barely said hello to one another before the mother turned and pointed to me. I knew exactly what was coming. Mrs. Attison walked with her hands bouncing slightly on either side, a kind of sped-up sway. When she got to me, sweat glistened above her eyebrows. “Julianna, I think it’s time to wrap it up.”
“Oh, I’m happy to stay out here to the end of the day. It’s important, you know.”
“I know.” Her mouth folded into a tight, wrinkled stamp. “I’d appreciate if you stopped all the same.” She took a step back, as if that was the end of it.
“I’m just passing out health center pamphlets,” I added. “It’s like passing out pamphlets about the gym or the arts center. What’s the difference?”
“Julianna, I’m on your side. It’s one thing to provide help. It’s another to shove parents’ worst fears in their faces as they’re dropping off their kids.”
“It’s all available at the health center. What’s the big deal?”
“You always have to push it one step further, don’t you?”
“That’s not how I see it.”
“Of course not.”
“I’ll sit behind the table if that is somehow better, but—”
“Julianna, this isn’t a discussion.”
“Julianna.” She rubbed her thumb and forefinger like she was balling wax. “For once, try not to make a scene. Try to take a step back and be a team player.” When I shook my head, she continued before I could make my argument. “This is your senior year. The last thing you want to do is make this year difficult for yourself. The politicking is done for the day.”
This shut me up. I was stunned. I simply nodded.
“Thank you,” she said, collecting herself. “I have to get the tour leaders prepped.”
Prepped. Now there was a familiar word at Fullbrook. Make sure you are prepped. Prep this, prep that. So much prep. Sometimes I wondered if “prepped” was actually the right word. There were a lot of rules at Fullbrook, written and otherwise. Unspoken codes. Codes Mom had embraced and still lived by. This was her school, not mine. If she’d sent me elsewhere, what would that have said about Fullbrook? Or her, really? She’d been in the first class to admit women, and the codes had stuck with her. Or maybe they’d been a part of her all along?
Prepped. Now there was a familiar word at Fullbrook. Make sure you are prepped. Prep this, prep that. So much prep. Sometimes I wondered if “prepped” was actually the right word.
A stone of sadness plunged deep within me. The lemonade pitcher sat mostly full on my folding table, and I pictured myself knocking back shots of lemonade all afternoon on my own, pamphlets leaving the table only when a breeze lifted them into the air and blew them like whispers across the quad.