Reviewed in the United States on July 5, 2018
Author: Brendan Kiely
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.
Brendan Kiely is known for three books, the most notable of which is All-American Boys, coauthored with fellow superstar Jason Reynolds (who holds a special place in my heart because of Miles Morales). But before Tradition, I hadn’t heard of him, nor read his work. But I found Tradition through a recommendation list online, and I checked it out from my library. It’s been sitting in my library stack for a while, and when I realized that I had no more renewals on it, I pushed it to the top of my stack after I finished A Court of Frost and Starlight. Kiely has penned a runaway sleeper hit that I will never forget, challenging everything we know about age-old traditions, rape culture, misogyny, and speaking your truth, even if it means letting go of everything you once held dear.
Fullbrook Academy, an elite boarding school tucked in the hills and mountains of New England. An establishment of learning, privilege, and success. But behind its polished veneer lies dangerous traditions and even darker secrets. Jules Devereux wants only to keep her head down and get through her last year, to start over at a new college and leave the antiquated, good old boys culture behind. She longs for complete freedom, but ex-boyfriends and friends hold her in her place, much to her frustration. Enter James ‘Bax’ Baxter, a newcomer from Ohio gifted a clean slate after a tragic accident back home, and an unlikely friendship springs up between them.
But the culture at Fullbrook, where girls in the yearbook are rated for their looks, boys stack hockey packs in their windows to show their sexual prowess and conquests, and dances sponsored by the school shove innocent first-year girls out into the night with older boys, is rife with sexism, misogyny, and more than skeletons in designer closet, and Jules and Bax must join forces to pull back the curtain on the sheltered world in which they live. Can they join forces and shed light on the darkness hiding in their everyday lives, against an institution that believes it can do no wrong?
This book… I finished it the night before last, and I had to let it marinate in my head before I could find the words that would describe how I felt. And to tell the truth, my feelings are still all tangled up. This book was like a punch to the gut, a fist through the teeth, a searing and unforgettable call to arms to fight against the ‘traditions’ that still thrive in our culture, where men can do whatever they want and get away with little more than a slap on the wrist. But even more than that, it was a beacon of hope, a reminder that though it can take some time and a lot of effort, change can happen, and all we have to do is hold on and do everything we can to dismantle the foundation of our sexist, misogynistic culture that gave birth to rape culture. I loved this book, it is easily one of the best I’ve read this year.
I really enjoyed all of it; the pacing was breakneck, and I was immediately drawn into the secretive, dark world that James and Jules inhabit. I also really enjoyed the format of the book; each chapter focused on Jules and James, going back and forth. The prose was searing, sparse, and gorgeous, full of power; I love Brendan Kiely’s writing style. I really enjoyed Jules and Bax’s voices, distinct and different but uplifting and powerful all at once. I will admit, due to the subject matter, there were times that I wanted to scream in rage and frustration, rip my hair out, and punch something. This beautiful, timely novel got into my head and heart and will never leave. I also really liked the way that Jules and Bax’s situations were portrayed: Jules isn’t sure what to think after a violent, drunken encounter with her ex, Ethan Hackett, and Bax longs to right his mistakes as well as fit in with the boys who can lift him up or make his existence hellish. But the two unite to dismantle the good ol’ boys club that is Fullbrook. That ending, too! Everything was meticulously researched and real to life; I will never forget Tradition, and I can’t wait to read more from Brendan Kiely. This book needs to be read by all, no matter their age or gender. Tackling class, privilege, rape culture, misogyny, and the awful traditions that haunt our culture to this day, Tradition is searing and unforgettable! The bottom line: A gorgeous, powerful and timely book featuring great, strong characters and searing prose, I loved this book! Easily one of the best books of 2018 for me. Next on deck: Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt!