The Tenth Circle – A review

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Much of The Tenth Circle, by Jodi Picoult, features the angst and confusion experienced by teenage girls. It rings true and makes me fearful for my granddaughters . . . and glad I raised boys.

After a date rape, a young girl is further traumatized when she is ostracized by her friends, the town, and the entire school, including teachers. The insensitivity and brutality of her treatment when she points out the boy who took advantage of her is stunning. The story then asks: What will loving parents do to protect their child?

There is so much going on in the lives of the Stone family they miss signals that the others need more attention, each has their secrets, and all need the family to pull together to keep out the dangers of the outside world. They miss that chance and their lives spiral out of control.

The author gets into the heads of each of the main three characters so the reader understands each of the view points. I liked this story for its insights and intensity. Jodi Picoult nails the challenges, the drama, and the meanness some kids experience in high school.

Daniel Stone, the father, is a comic book artist, so there is a parallel story in comic book style interspersed in the novel. The illustrations are there to “illustrate” his own internal turmoil. An interesting addition, but I skipped over those pages. The pen and ink drawings were too small for me to see and the dark comic style is not for me.

I can see the author researched her topics well, though there were times when extra information was included to get that research into the story. I very much enjoyed the descriptions of life in Alaska and the Yup’ik tribe with whom Daniel Stone was raised, the only white kid amongst the indigenous people. The author travelled to Alaska and researched the Yup’ik, so it’s in the book. Though I like the juxtaposition of locations, I think it stretches credulity to expect us to believe the fourteen-year-old girl ran away alone from Maine to Alaska and made it without incident.

Having dragged the reader across the continent to an awesome place, the story could have given more closure there. Daniel Stone might have resolved more of his issues. It’s true, the reader learns more about the father’s childhood, but the character doesn’t change or learn anything new about his past.

Or the girl might have stayed among the Yup’ik to heal. Instead, the police detective caught up with the family in Alaska and the story ends back in Maine.

Spoiler Alert. Don’t read the following unless you don’t mind knowing important points in advance.

Here’s where other readers might get upset with me. I think Trixie, the young rape victim, overreacted . . . Hold on a minute. Yes, date rape is still rape. Yes, the boy should have understood she meant NO. Yes, he needs some punishment. But, as the story is written, the girl was more emotional with guilt over other issues, brought upon herself, than from the rape itself. The date rape was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Trixie was overly emotional because she felt guilty for lying to her parents about where she was that night and guilty over her own actions at the party and for lying about them. Her emotions were wild because she was in love with Jason and wanted him back. She acted sexy to get his attention. She gave herself the date-rape drug.and engaged in an oral sex game and strip poker with others at the party. She also lied about being a virgin. The lies weighed on her. If she wasn’t such an emotion mess, she might have taken having sex with Jason one more time more in stride. They had engaged in sex many times before, so it wasn’t a bodily shock. It was an emotional shock because she realized Jason wasn’t in love with her.

The author went to some pains to say Trixie never actually said NO, though she did push him away and hit at him. Had she not been burdened with guilt for her other actions, she might have been angry with him for forcing her this time and vowed never to see him again. She might have reported the incident to the police as an assault. Had she told the truth, her parents might not have been hit with outrage, hysteria, and guilt of their own. Everyone would still be alive. But then, that’s the story.

I applaud the author for challenging a discussion on the topic of date rape. When is it rape, when is it not? Where is the line? I hope eventually there will be a clearer and different terms for the type of rape that occurs when an assailant leaps out of the dark and holds a knife to the woman’s throat and the type when an eighteen year old boy on a date becomes too insistent.

The Tenth Circle is a novel I’d recommend for a book discussion group. There are helpful questions and answers from the author at the back of the book.

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