On first meeting, Alina Klein (link) seems like any other writer--quiet and observant, not too flashy. She's tall with smooth, well-behaved light-brown hair, and she has a reassuring, calm smile.
So when we started talking about our books, and she told me about her latest RAPE GIRL, I knew it was going to be something powerful. A little earthquake.
She explained SPEAK (by Laurie Halse) is about a girl who's raped and doesn't tell anyone, and everything falls apart.
RAPE GIRL is about a girl who's raped and does report it, and everything still falls apart.
And it's based on personal experience.
First, I'll just put it out there, I rarely know the right thing to say at any given moment, which is why I'm a writer and not a public speaker. So I didn't know what to say. I just read her book.
I'm still trying to decide how to explain this small volume that basically says everything. In brief, perfectly worded passages, Alina makes you feel these things through her fictional character Valerie:
-The awkwardness of throwing your first "parents out of town" party.
-The weird-fun-sickness of being drunk for the first time.
-The guilt of being too hungover the next morning to care for your little sister.
-The numb, helpless, confusion of being raped.
-The horror of a rape exam combined with a first-time pelvic exam.
-The shock of learning that telling your mom, reporting it to the police, means telling the world.
-The betrayal of your best friend believing him.
-The strange mind-trip of group therapy and not feeling "raped enough" to be there.
-The inward-turning, the loss of faith in the system, the self-doubt...
I know this sounds like a downer, depressing story, but it's not. It's very enlightening, and it ends on a note of such hope. It's how I understand Alina can meet me and be what she is--confident, calm, reassuring. And she's a tireless supporter of rape victims. (See her "Empowerment Project," link.)
Sure, I cried several times while reading. Alina's a beautiful writer, and it was almost too much to think she'd suffered a similar experience as Val. I also empathized with Val's poor mother, who blamed herself for going out of town and "letting" this happen.
But I'm so glad I read it. It's out now, so run grab a copy--Stat!
Barnes & Noble (link)
Now for the interview:
LTM: Everyone's asking (or will), so here goes: How much of RAPE GIRL is your story, and how much is fiction?
ABK: This is a tough question, actually. I have been asked it before, and I know people are interested. But the "real" parts are so entwined in the fiction, it would be difficult to pick them apart without deconstructing the whole story. It's certainly a novel and not an autobiography. To be honest, that's all it ever could be. My own rape and the trial that followed are a blur. The details are long gone, but the emotions have lingered. So I tried to write from those. My personal story was included most often as kernals of truth that I built upon. Like the one I shared in a blog post about the girl who became Valerie's friend. One scene I did borrow pretty much wholesale from my own life, however, was the one where Valerie is faced down by a group of boys in the school office. Only for me they were at the courthouse.
LTM: Writing this book took guts, I imagine, going back and facing that experience again. What made you decide to do it?
ABK: The need to write RAPE GIRL crystallized after I read SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson. I cried when I reached the end of that book, because unlike Melinda, when I spoke my life exploded. It shouldn't happen that way, but it does, and people need to realize that, or nothing will ever change.
LTM: I loved how you showed Val's inner dialogue when talking with people, then her breakdown. What's the one thing you wished people had said after your experience? (Or the thing someone said that meant the most.)
ABK: I'm sure people said a lot of supportive things to me that I've forgotten. I wish that weren't the case. One thing I think would have meant a lot, and which I'd like to say to every other survivor out there, is from my book: "They say that rape is the only crime in which the victim has to prove her innocence. And I want you to know, I believe in your innocence. You don't have to prove anything to me."
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LTM: That rape exam was horrifying. Actually, Val's entire experience with police and authorities left me outraged. At the same time, logical Leigh wonders how else can they get evidence? What do you think having gone through it? What must change? What's sort of inevitable?
ABK: I don't know how, or if, the collection process of the rape kits can change. Probably not for the sake of the few cases that actually make it to court. What isn't inevitable is the treatment of survivors by authority figures. There are amazing advocates who travel the country provide training to doctors and law enforcement officers to help them interact in a more empathetic way with survivors. Still, no matter how gentle they may be, each step in the process is one more trauma to navigate after being raped. The true travesty of rape kits, however, is the fact that hundreds of thousands of them remain untested after survivors underwent the grueling collection process. See endthebacklog.org for more information. Spread the word.
LTM: As a mother of two girls, I related to the mom-character's guilt feelings. At the same time, I wondered, how can something like this be predicted/prevented? Have you thought of this? I feel sure you have. What's your take?
ABK: Rape can't be predicted or prevented by potential victims. That's my take. You can do everything right and it can still happen to you or to your daughters or to someone else you love. This is why the focus should to be shifted toward educating the people most likely to commit rape and not the ones who may suffer it. Preventing rapists is the only thing that will prevent rape.
LTM: Do you have any sort-of hopes for this book? Other than it being a runaway bestseller, of course (*wink*)
ABK: I have very grand hopes that my book will make a difference. That I can remove the stigma from the word "rape" (with my title alone, yes?) and open the topic for discussion. That girls will read it and know that the darkest times in their lives can be a source of strength and not an obstacle to it. That boys will read it and put themselves in Adam's shoes--and think twice whenever a girl seems less than enthusiastic about being touched. Yeah, I pretty much want to change the world.
Thanks, Alina! You rule. You're an awesome, brave person, and a great friend. Now everyone grab a copy and tell your friends.
And have a great week, reader- and writer-friends~ <3