by Taylor Vidmar
Welcome! My name is Taylor, and I like books. A lot. In this biweekly column I’m going to be reviewing the books I read so you can decide if you want to read them too. Some books may be old, some may be new, some may have been sitting on my bookshelf for months, collecting dust as I think “Crap, I really should have read that by now.”
You can add me on Goodreads to find out what I’m reading all year long. Now, on to the review!
One of my favorite book genres is eerie, east-coast-private-school-set dramas (read: Luckiest Girl Alive, The Secret History, etc.). Brendan Kiely’s Tradition is a new, and good, addition to this bunch.
Tradition is set at Fullbrook Academy, a prestigious private boarding school where rape culture and toxic masculinity run rampant. Its main characters are James Baxter and Jules Devereux. James is a talented hockey player hoping to redeem himself at his new school, and Jules is an exhausted, frustrated senior who just wants to get out of Fullbrook as soon as possible. The story is told in dual narrative, switching on and off between James and Jules as they grow closer and more connected thanks to the conflict at the novel’s center– a terrifying, damaging night Jules experiences hidden in the woods outside Fullbrook. Tradition deals with this experience and how it is connected to the traditional culture at private schools.
The nature of tradition at places like Fullbrook Academy is deeply upsetting and completely dangerous for female students (and, really, all marginalized students). Who are these schools structured to protect? Rich, white, male students, of course. Tradition is a frustrating exploration of this unfair system.
Tradition’s storyline is more relevant than ever with the #MeToo movement. Also, it’s strikingly similar to the story of Chessy Prout, a former private school student and victim of sexual assault. Chessy actually took her case to trial, thus thrusting herself into the center of a national conversation on sexual assault at schools. Chessy’s and Jules’s experiences are difficult to read, but we have to confront them. If we don’t, nothing will ever change.
Obviously, Tradition fiercely confronts sexism, rape culture, and toxic masculinity. But it also attempts to tackle racism, homophobia, and economic inequality. Unfortunately, all these latter issues fall by the wayside, becoming nothing but mere footnotes in the story of private schools’ systematic inequality. However, I do applaud Kiely for attacking the overall infuriating culture at private schools.
Tradition ends somewhat abruptly, leaving the reader on a melancholy note. I will say, as a reader, I wish this wasn’t the case. But it does feel like this structure is meant to mirror the aftermath many sexual assault survivors experiences. Survivors don’t get “happy endings.” In fact, they often don’t even get endings (aka closure). Women like Jules and her friend Aileen, aptly nicknamed “The Viking,” carry their trauma for the rest of their lives. Yet, they persist. They keep living, and they keep fighting. They’re warriors, and we should fight alongside them.