YA Review: Tradition

Title: Tradition
Author: Brendan Kiely
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

This is a story about sexual assault at a prestigious US boarding school, and the barriers to reporting and consequences when the abusers are protected by money and reputation. The author could have chosen to sensationalise the subject, or give us a dramatic, terrifying event to examine, but instead the abuse, and the unofficial traditions that enable the abuse, are shown quietly and in glimpses, with respect for the characters involved.

The story is told from two points of view. Jules has had enough of the sexist attitudes of the Fullbrook Academy (in her words “a boys’ school, and they accept girls here too”). She has one year left before she can escape to college, and her focus is on getting good grades and leaving Fullbrook behind. Bax is an athlete, brought into Fullbrook on a full scholarship to change the fortunes of their ice hockey team. He feels out of place among the rich boys who dominate the school and the sports teams, and he finds a friend in Jules. When Jules is assaulted at the traditional start-of-year school party, Bax has to decide where his loyalties lie.

This is a sensitive and effective exploration of the effects of entitlement, power, and sexual assault – not only on the victim, but on the entire community. It is not immediately clear what has happened to Jules – even though the assault is described from her point of view, she doesn’t fully process the event until later in the book, and initially the reader doesn’t know exactly what happened. The only clues are her behaviour over the next few days – retreating from her friends, skipping meals and classes – and the confusion among her friends about what might be causing her unusual behaviour. In an echo of the 2015 Stanford rape trial, the reaction of the school authorities is heartbreaking, and when Jules turns to her friends for support, she discovers that she is not the only victim, and that the start-of-year party is not the only tradition that puts the female students at risk.

Jules, Bax, and their circle of friends are all engaging characters who bring their own expectations and ambitions to the Fullbrook Academy community. They encounter bullying and abuse of power in every part of their lives – in the sports teams, in their interactions with the school authorities, and in their relationships with other students – but as they spend more time together, they start to see a way to challenge the accepted traditions, and to make a stand against the entitlement of a rich and powerful elite.

Tradition tackles an important and relevant Young Adult issue with a sensitive and effective story. The setting, the events, and the reactions of the characters feel uncomfortably real, and the book is definitely a conversation-starter. Do you agree with the actions and reactions of the characters? Would you do what they do? What would you risk to protect your community? This would be a perfect book club text, with plenty to discuss and explore. And who knows? Maybe it will help to change attitudes to sexual assault and justice.

Have you read Tradition? Did you think Jules was treated fairly? And what about Bax? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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