Tradition

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Tradition Book Poster Image
Powerful look at feminism, rape culture at an elite school.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about boarding schools, the traditions of elite prep schools, how sexism and classism work among the elites, and why education and awareness are important to young women and girls.

Positive Messages

Positive messages include the importance of affirmative consent in physical/sexual relationships, the value of having close friends who support and believe you, and the awareness that privilege, wealth, and class shouldn't be allowed to cover up the acts of those who commit rape and sexual assault. Campus safety is also explored.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jules and Jamie courageous and ethical. They have their flaws but believe in both helping women and girls stay safe and in helping sexual assault survivors find their voices. They, along with Aileen, are brave enough to take a vocal, unpopular stand in a school that cherishes tradition and the status quo.

Violence

A young woman is sexually assaulted; she describes the act and how it made her feel before, during, and afterward. Another female character shares how a date turned into date rape when she was 14.

Sex

Teens discuss their sexual histories, including monogamous relationships, consensual hook ups, etc. Couples kiss, make out, and flirt. In one case, a couple undresses and nearly has sex, but the young woman stops it, and the young man is understanding. Male seniors discuss how many classmates they can bed in a game that involves stacking hockey pucks for each conquest.

Language

Commonly used strong language includes "f--k," "motherf--ker," "p---y," "bitch," "a--hole," "ass," "s--t,"  "douche," "slut," "whore," "easy," "d--k," and more.

Consumerism

A few cars, iPhone/Apple, and Uber.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Underage teens drink (beer, vodka) and use drugs (mostly pot) recreationally, often at parties, and often to excess. The author describes the various consequences of being drunk, particularly when it comes to consent.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tradition is a contemporary novel about two seniors (one female, one male) at a prestigious New England boarding school where toxic masculinity and sexism/sexual assault go hand in hand. Written by award-winning author Brendan Kiely, the book uses a dual narrative structure to explore not only rape culture but also class and privilege (and how these are often used as shields against consequences) -- and the myriad ways girls and women are disenfranchised by the entitlement of men and boys. Although the book was written by a man, it's sensitive to the way young women struggle with the stigma of sexism and sexual assault in school settings. It's a powerful choice for a parent-teen read and will spark several important conversations.

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What's the story?

Award-winning author Brendan Kiely's (The Last True Love Story, All American Boys) contemporary young adult novel is set at Fullbrook Academy, an elite New England boarding school that's been educating the country's privileged and powerful for generations. The book takes the alternating points of view of two seniors: outspoken feminist Jules Devereux, a second-generation student whose mother was in the prep school's first graduating class to allow women, and hockey scholarship student Jamie Baxter, who's repeating his senior year and escaping a traumatic past in his Ohio hometown. Jules' ex-boyfriend is the Big Man On Campus, Ethan, but she's now "off boys" and committed to exposing the hypocritical sexism and persistent rape culture on Fullbrook's campus. Meanwhile, Jamie agrees with Jules -- with whom he shares a platonic bond -- but he's aware that scholarship kids (even white ones) are expected to toe the line, support the status quo, and act grateful for their chance to be educated at Fullbrook. When Jules is assaulted at a party, Jamie must decide whether to keep his head down or help his friend take a stand.

Is it any good?

It's never easy to read about sexism or sexual assault, particularly involving rich, entitled young men who believe they're above the law, but Kiely's story is a thought-provoking read. Before he was a full-time writer, Kiely taught in elite prep schools, so he understands the culture he's exploring and writes believably about the insider perspective (legacies, athletes, and kids whose parents pay full freight), as well as the outsider points of view (outcasts, misfits, and scholarship kids). Jules isn't typically likable, but she's incredibly fierce and opinionated -- as is Aileen, an artist the boys nickname "the Viking" as a wink wink to all of her conquests. Jamie is earnest and conflicted about whether to rock the boat as a scholarship athlete who's supposed to keep his head on the ice and in the game -- and possibly on hooking up with girls, but NOT on being the "campus femiNazis" ally and friend.

Kiely has emerged as a true talent in contemporary, issues-based young adult fiction, and Tradition doesn't disappoint. There's no predictable love story as you might expect in a co-ed, dual point of view narrative, and that's actually quite refreshing. Jamie and Jules' connection is based in friendship, not the possibility of romance. There is romance in the overall story, but it's secondary to the main plot. This is a book that will make readers think and wonder what they'd do at Fullbrook -- stand with Jules, Jamie, and company, or go along with the flow with the popular and conforming teens?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of "issue" books like Tradition. Are they helpful for teens to read, even if readers have never dealt with the specific issues in the books?

  • Parents, discuss the idea of affirmative consent, as well as your family's values and expectations about adolescent (or pre-marital) sex. Talk about why a girl's sexual history, how she dresses, and whether she has previously had sex with a particular person doesn't have any bearing on consent.

  • How does the book correlate privilege and sexism with rape culture? Why do you think girls and women are still treated differently than boys and men?

  • Teens, have you witnessed double standards surrounding sex and the different impact/reputations that stem from having it? How can young men learn to be allies?

Book details

For kids who love realistic fiction

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