TEASE is a compelling debut novel from Maciel. When Emma Putnam transfers to Sara Wharton's school, she makes the error of flirting with and dating older, popular boys. The popular girls aren't having it, and quintessential mean girl Brielle, Sara's best friend, begins a campaign of cruelty that starts with whispers and name-calling and escalates into cyberbullying and accusations of statutory rape. The author deftly examines the issue of teen bullying from both sides, rather than painting the characters in terms of good versus evil, though there is a healthy dose of evil in one of the characters. By showing the reader the events from the bully's point of view, we see that some unhappy people spread their unhappiness around, whereas others are so desperate for approval and belonging that they let themselves be swept along by stronger personalities, eventually losing their sense of self in the process.
Maciel hooks the reader by shifting the action between present time and the months preceding Emma's suicide. We know where Sara is, but how did such a normal-seeming teen like her get there? The interactions between the teen characters, although often vapid and reckless, are authentic. Their friendships and romantic relationships highlight how difficult and complex the teen years can be for many kids. Sara can be an annoying narrator at times, becoming whiny and self-absorbed once the town turns on her in the wake of Emma's death. She initially cannot see the irony of her despair at having her life ripped apart due to her tormenting of another person. Tease leaves teen and adult readers with a lot to contemplate regarding healthy friendships, parent-child relationships, empathy, cruelty, jealousy, and compassion.