By: Janet Kelley
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: December 2021
Reviewed by: Lynette Latzko
Author and sexual assault survivor advocate, Janet Kelley, presents her debut novel, Taint, an intense story of friendship, and the overwhelming desire for justice.
By all accounts, class valedictorian Rebecca White and her bestie, Luke Warren, are regular high school seniors who are fully enjoying all the typical perks of being in their final school year before they embark upon the next chapter in their adult life. Hanging out with their friend Tiffany, at a local diner, eating pie and drinking coffee, is one of their favorite pastimes. Rebecca believes high school life is mostly mundane but is sprinkled at times with some excitement such as getting ready for prom. That is until the day she quietly slips out of her house, and into the car with Luke, who is quite distraught. After she’s sworn total secrecy, he tells her of the horrific incident that happened to him the previous week.
Luke explains to Rebecca that he was invited by Weston, the son of the principal of their high school, to join a bunch of guys at his family’s lake house for some beer and fun. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a cool night hanging out with friends, ended up spiraling downwards when Luke was alone and Weston attacked him, pulling out a knife, and raping him. Obviously stunned by this information, Rebecca tries to comfort Luke but is completely speechless. Over the next few weeks while Luke continues to plod along at school, hiding his dreadful secret, Rebecca’s emotions transform from shocked numbness, into indignation and rage. At times her feelings are described so profoundly, it’s as if she is experiencing survivor's guilt, even though she wasn’t actually there during Luke’s assault. Eventually Rebecca becomes torn between keeping Luke’s secret, and what transforms into an obsessive desire to make Weston pay for his hideous actions.
Taint is a deeply moving and original account of what happens in the aftermath of a sexual assault. However, what makes this a truly unique page-turning tale, is the perspective it’s being told from; that of the victim’s best friend. Although the writing in Taint is wordy and feels a bit scatterbrained, which may lose an adult reader’s attention, the writing is generally typical of some teenagers’ thought processes and behavior (particularly a teen going through such emotional turmoil), and should be taken into consideration before giving up on the book entirely. The author weaves a powerful story with such vivid descriptions that readers feel every emotion Rebecca experiences, and although Rebecca’s actions may be at first shocking and questionable, it becomes easily understandable why she makes her decisions - though are they the best decisions, and to what extent are they justifiable? These questions will swirl around readers’ heads long after finishing this read. Finally, it should be noted that parts of this novel have extremely graphic content, and may be an emotional trigger to those with a history of sexual assault or violence.
Quill says: Author Janet Kelley brings to light a new perspective on the aftermath of sexual assault, that is both riveting and thought-provoking.
For more information on Taint, please visit the author's website at: writenowjanetkelley.com/