Life Unaware tells the story of a popular girl’s fall from grace and her subsequent experience of being bullied by her peers. Regan, the main character (who also has the same name as the girl from The Exorcist WHY GOD), is not exactly an innocent victim: she and two of her friends have bullied people in the past, which is part of the reason why Regan is then made a victim of a relentless bullying campaign against herself. I did not have a whole lot of sympathy for Regan because of this but I have a larger problem with the story and the overall message this book is trying to sell.
So Regan walks into school one day and finds her private messages between herself and her friends plastered all over the walls of the school. Their petty, mean, private messages are made public and her two friends drop her because suddenly being associated with Regan is like social suicide or something. They, as well as much of the student body, turn against her and Regan experiences what it’s like to be taunted and made fun of every day. Only one person seems to be on her side: her former best friend’s brother, Nolan. The two become friends and eventually develop a romantic relationship, despite their past. This bugged the absolute shit out of me because 1. Nolan is NOT a nice person; he takes an uncomfortable amount of pleasure from watching Regan being bullied 2. he also enjoys swooping in to ~protect~ her 3. the reveal at the end proves that Nolan is an asshole who perpetuates a vicious cycle of bullying which unsurprisingly is targeted at a group of teenage girls.
The reveal that Nolan and a friend of his pretty much orchestrated the vicious bullying against Regan in a fucking petty attempt at revenge infuriated me. Normally this would be considered a spoiler but I refuse to not discuss this reveal. Life Unaware is ostensibly a story about bullying. It is a book that seeks to point out just how ugly bullying can get and how it ruins the high school experience for so many people. Nolan, because a friend of his becomes suicidal due to the incessant bullying she was subjected to, comes up with the idea to turn the tables on Regan and her friends. He doesn’t just plaster Regan’s messages over the walls but makes her the completely unaware focus of a documentary about bullying, which he then shows to the entire school. His actions, instead of illustrating that bullying is terrible, pretty much perpetuate a vicious cycle – there is still a victim, still a girl crying alone at night, and the story gives him a pass because apparently this is the only way for teenage girls to become acceptable of ~love. Nolan had no right to do what he does to Regan, and it makes him as much of a bully as she and her friends.
Regan was one of the few redeeming parts of this novel, not because she’s particularly likable or compelling but because she suffers from severe anxiety and is prone to panic attacks. Regan’s life is controlled by her relationship with her mother, a woman who likes to tell her teenage daughter not to eat so much because she could pile on the pounds. Regan is put under severe pressure to perform well academically, physically and socially; her anxiety is viewed as a weakness by her mother. The detail given to Regan’s struggle with her anxiety disorder was well written and gave her character depth. Casually pointing out that Nolan, champion of an anti-bullying campaign, effectively spearheads a bullying campaign against a girl struggling with severe anxiety. Such a class act.
I just couldn’t like this book. By all means, write about bullying but be more self-aware of the story you’re telling.