Julie Anne Peters is known for writing novels about LGBTQ teens. While the main characters of Rage are lesbian or bisexual, it’s not a focus of the story. Johanna and Reeve are both out and comfortable with their sexuality, though every once in awhile someone says something derogatory to one of them. The focus, instead, is on their emotional issues caused by unstable family life.
I’ve read books about abusive relationships before. Alex Flinn’s Breathing Underwater is an excellent look into the head of an abuser, and her Diva an equally interesting portrait of the girl recovering from the relationship and beginning new ones. Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland is an equally compelling look at a girl and why she would stay with the guy abusing her. Rage plays with the formula by making Johanna not an ordinary girl fighting to stay with her abuser, but a girl who was severely damaged before she even entered the relationship.
When the book begins, Johanna has been fantasizing about Reeve as an escape to her life. Her mother and father are dead; her sister stayed at college while she cared for their dying mother. At the crucial point when she needed Tessa’s support, her sister said nothing. With that trust broken, the only person she can rely on is her best friend Novak. But Novak’s dating a scummy guy, and pretty soon her relationship with Johanna is on the rocks. And Johanna’s fantasy relationship is about to become a reality.
Reeve had an abusive father, and now she’s left with her druggie mother and abusive uncle. She also has to care for her autistic twin brother. She’s grown up with only Robbie’s love, and she’s best at using people. She isn’t the classic abuser, trying to keep Johanna under her thumb. Reeve wants to push Johanna away because she understands the relationship isn’t healthy. I half expected Johanna to erupt into a rage of her own, the psychopath upset that the reality isn’t her ideal.
Despite being almost 300 pages, Rage felt a little thin. Rage is a psychological novel, and there’s little going on aside from a series of interconnected relationships. It’s in Johanna’s point of view, but I still found her the most opaque character. I understand her on a logical level, but not an emotional one. (It’s hard to explain.) However, the supporting cast helps out by being engaging. I can’t help but wish for more of Novak in the novel. She’s a magnetic presence, even when her actions are repulsive.
Rage can be enjoyed even by those who dislike lesbian content. The only actual sex scene is done subtly, and Johanna’s (explicit) fantasies are clearly marked by heading and italics. For those who have been in abusive relationships, Rage may contain triggers. Other than that, it’s extremely interesting on a psychological level. But for those who prefer plot-driven fiction to character-driven, it might not be the best choice. I have not read Peters before, but I would be willing to try one of her other novels out based on Rage. (Edit: Just looked at the author bio and I know I’ve read Define “Normal.” But it’s been a long time and I remember nothing.) She seems to have a strong understanding of the way teenagers really act, always a bonus in YA novels.
Johanna is steadfast, patient, reliable; the go-to girl, the one everyone can count on. But always being there for others can’t give Johanna everything she needs—it can’t give her Reeve Hartt.
Reeve is fierce, beautiful, wounded, elusive; a flame that draws Johanna’s fluttering moth. Johanna is determined to get her, against all advice, and to help her, against all reason. But love isn’t always reasonable, right?
In the precarious place where attraction and need collide, a teenager experiences the dark side of a first love, and struggles to find her way into a new light.
Read an excerpt here.