Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Review: I Have the Right To

Title: I Have the Right To: A High School Survivors Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope
Authors: Chessy Prout with Jenn Abelson
Publisher: Margaret McElderry Books
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Source: Finished Copy from Publisher 

A young survivor tells her searing, visceral story of sexual assault, justice, and healing in this gutwrenching memoir.

The numbers are staggering: nearly one in five girls ages fourteen to seventeen have been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. This is the true story of one of those girls.

In 2014, Chessy Prout was a freshman at St. Paul’s school, a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire when a senior boy sexually assaulted her as part of a ritualized game of conquest. Chessy bravely reported her assault to the police and testified against her attacker in court. Then, in the face of unfathomable backlash from her once trusted school community, she shed her anonymity to help other survivors find their voice.

This memoir is more than an account of a horrific event; it takes a magnifying glass to the institutions that turn a blind eye to such behavior and a society that blames victims rather than attackers, while offering real, powerful solutions to upending rape culture as we know it today.

Prepare to be inspired by this remarkable young woman and her story of survival, advocacy, and hope in the face of unspeakable trauma.

My Review

Trigger Warning - This book review may allude to sexual assault.

It's not every day when a young woman comes across a book that can make her feel every emotion under the sun. It's even rarer when I, The Hardcover Lover, can find a book that brings up so many different emotions during the course of reading. Chessy Prout's story and memoir did that for me, and so much more. As I was reading this book, I became invested. Invested in the story. Invested in Chessy's life. I even did more research on her when I was finished with the book, and for me, researching after completing a book means that it was a job well done. She made me want to learn more. She made me want to do more.

Chessy Prout was just another teenager, and then one day, her life was turned upside-down. One morning, she woke up at the end of her freshman year of high school at St. Paul's School, a very prestigious boarding school in New England. By nightfall, she was a sexual assault survivor. Her story is one that will make you cry. It will make you angry. It will even make you feel joy and relief. But most importantly, her story is real, and every person who reads this book will learn something about both Chessy and his or herself.

Ms. Prout's writing skills are far beyond her years. She captures a traumatic time in her life, and tells her story in the simplest way possible - honesty. For a topic so complex and so emotional, Chessy Prout hones in on her audience and writes about what happened. What happened to her that night. What happened to her that year at school. What happened years before. What happened with the media circus surrounding the trial. And most importantly - what happens to her now.

Yes, her story is emotional, and it should be. When I was reading this, I was so immersed in what was happening. I really couldn't put this book down. I didn't feel like I was reading a memoir. I felt like I was listening to a friend tell me about the worst possible thing that could happen to a woman.

I also found myself angry. As a teacher, I kept thinking about this situation. What if Chessy were my student? How would I react? Would I be just as angry as I was while reading the book? Would I speak up to administrators about the situation and how I felt? Would I rally for better protections on campus? How would I go on knowing that it happened under my roof? I also reflected on my years on a college campus. When I was in college, there were numerous sexual assaults. They seemed random, and it appeared we had a serial rapist. I remember being so scared of walking home from my night classes on what was supposed to be one of the safest college campuses in Pennsylvania. I thought about myself in Chessy's shoes. What would I do? Would I speak up, or would I never tell a soul? As I thought more and more about how rape culture exists, I became outraged. I realized that the society failed Chessy. Her school and its society made it worse for her to speak up and out against what happened to her. I was livid upon finding out that they'd rather silence her than tarnish their golden legacy. And then I wondered - When is enough really enough? When will this stop?

Then my anger turned into hope. Reading Chessy's story and seeing how she fought against such a patriarchal society made me feel like women really can do anything. Seeing this brilliant young woman speak out against the young man who assaulted her inspired me. Seeing her pull away from the friends who only wanted to blame her and punish her made me proud that she could pull herself away from toxic people. Seeing her fight gave me hope that other survivors will read this book or hear her story and feel like they can also speak out and fight for justice. I was inspired to do more after reading Ms. Prout's book. I was inspired to speak up. I was inspired to listen. 

I can't recommend this book enough. It's a book for survivors. It's a book for friends of survivors. It's a book for mothers, daughters, fathers, brothers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It's a book for anyone who immediately blames the victim. It's a book for people who need to learn that our society needs to change. It's a book for every single person on this planet. This book should, and will change the way we view the world. Chessy Prout writes with fire and smashes through walls. She makes the impossible possible. Even though this young woman is a decade younger than I am, she's a hero to me, and I'm sure a hero to the other lives she's touched just by telling her story.

I don't know if Ms. Prout will write another book, but I do know that my journey with her is far from over. Like I said, she's a hero to me now, and I will continue to watch her and follow her progress. She can and will change the world for the better.

Chessy Prout is a high school sexual assault survivor. Raised in Japan, Chessy matriculated to St. Paul’s School—a boarding school in New Hampshire, where her father and sister attended. There, as a freshman, Chessy was the victim of a sexual assault. Chessy’s case and eventual trial garnered national and international media attention, as her assault was part of a ritual competition at the school called the “Senior Salute.” Two years later, in Chessy’s pursuit for justice, she decided to step forward publicly in August 2016 and launched the #IHaveTheRightTo initiative with the organization PAVE, for which she is an ambassador. In this initiative Chessy encourages survivors and others to assert their most important, basic rights, and uses her voice to let other survivors know that you are not alone.

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