Sunday, April 15, 2007

In which lying, as always, proves a lousy idea.

Thursday turned into Sunday, as these things do, but at least now I've submitted my taxes, turned in my recommendations to Reader Girlz, emailed my questions for the next author interview (should be appearing next week sometime), triumphed over the teen craft program I've been agonizing about, and attended a birthday party. So here we are, on Sunday, with the review I thought I'd have up on Thursday.

Emma. Anna. Mariah. Three private school girls who've decided to walk a line their peers will respect, but their parents wouldn't approve of. Caught in a lie, the girls attempt to cover their tracks with another lie. One they think will get them off and quickly be forgotten. One they still wish would be forgotten after it inspires protests, outcry, and the arrest of an innocent man...

It's so vastly different from Dana Reinhardt's debut novel A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life. About halfway through I had to stop reading Harmless. I couldn't handle it anymore. Not because it was bad - far from it, in fact. These girls were so real, but so very, very wrong, and I was so troubled and angered by their behavior that I simply had to put it down for a while. I could easily see this situation translating into reality. I'm sure variations of it have.

Are there degrees of innocence and guilt? Is a small lie different than large lies? Does intent matter at all? Each character deals differently with their lot; Anna, ever hungry for popularity embraces her new-found notoriety, Mariah has a touch of denial, and Emma is consumed with guilt. The situation forces simmering family issues to erupt and many more lives are affected than the girls ever anticipated.

Harmless could have easily turned into a tale of didactic consequences but Reinhardt reigns it in with grounded takes on the familial situations that influence the girls' behavior. Each comes close to revealing their secret but are silenced by the pressures of their lives and the affect the revelation would have on those they love.

I kept thinking about the Salem Witch Trials. Those girls, those girls that ended up destroying lives and causing the death of 20+ people in 1692? They were bored. Like Reinhardt's trio, I doubt that they meant their accusations to go as far as they did, but... for whatever reason hysteria took hold of the situation and the adults who should have been in control of the situation let fear rule the proceedings. Every voice has power, especially when playing into the established fears of society. In 1692 it was was witchcraft. Today it can be private school girls being assaulted.

Even though I had a hard time reading the title due to it's intensity, I find it remarkable. I can't wait to see what Reinhardt gives us next. And no, I'm not just being nice because I'm hoping to interview the author someday...


Jackie Parker said...

Yes, I know that the Salem Witch Trials had more causes than a few girls' boredom. But really, they never would have become 'the circle girls' if boredom wasn't a factor. They also needed to distract from those very illegal gatherings...How better than pointing fingers at social outcasts and playing on salient fears? Who cares if the slave or beggar are condemned? Who cares if it's the vagrant? Jack the Ripper went after the prostitutes for a reason.


Anonymous said...

ooOOOooOOoo. You captured the essence of the book perfectly. Right down to how serious the matter really is. I liked the comparison to the Salem Witch Trials. Very cleverly done. ;)