Review: The Pain Eater by Beth Goobie

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From Second Story Press: She hadn’t told anyone. Not a single soul. Not one word about that night and what had been done to her had ever passed Maddy Malone’s lips. She’d thought about it at first—had been desperate, even frantic, to tell. But then had come the shame, and the intimidation from the boys who raped her. Now it’s the beginning of a new school year and Maddy is hoping that she can continue to hide, making herself as quiet and small as possible. She is consumed with keeping the memories at bay, forcing them down through small cuts and the burn from the end of a cigarette. But when her English class is given the assignment of writing a collaborative novel about a fifteen-year-old girl, The Pain Eater, fact and fiction begin to meet up. When the boys spread rumors about Maddy, she realizes that continuing to hide the truth will only give them more control, and she slowly gains the courage to confront them.

Maddy Malone was gang raped coming home from a school play. So begins Beth Goobie’s The Pain Eater (Second Story Press). A powerful, tightly-wound and socially relevant story, I couldn’t put it down.

Goobie lays out the facts of the rape in the prologue in frank detail—this is what happened. The rest of the book takes place several months later after summer vacation. Maddy hasn’t told anyone what happened. Over the summer, Maddy was able to shut herself down, for the most part, although when the memories and the fear got too much for her to handle she would press a lit cigarette into her skin, the pain helping turn her mind off. But when school starts, one of Maddy’s rapists is in her English class and her panic is constantly at the surface.

This is not a book you read when you want to feel happy. If you’re having a bad day, maybe choose something lighter. But it is a book you should read. It’s difficult and shocking…and beautiful. The Pain Eater affected me deeply and emotionally. I felt sick a lot of the time I was reading this. Sick and dirty, my disgust for what this group of boys thought was okay on my skin like a film even now that I’ve read to the last page. And I thank the author for making me feel this way.

I appreciate that Goobie uses “rape” every time to describe what happened to Maddy. She doesn’t gloss over it or obscure it with flowery language. I think it’s important that it is named. It takes away question. It was rape. She was raped. You can’t dress it up in a bow and make it into something less horrible.

It was important for me to understand why Maddy hadn’t told anyone, especially when she has such a supportive family. Goobie does a great job helping the reader understand Maddy’s reasoning and making it believable.

The metaphors and Maddy’s introspection got a bit heavy-handed at times, but it is a heavy story, so I’ll forgive that.

This book has a very interesting structure, with Maddy’s narrative told alongside her class’s English project: a collective novel called The Pain Eater. As both stories progress, they begin to merge, shaping and informing the stories of both heroines. This book is very much about Maddy trying to find her way back to herself. I needed to know that she could. And while it doesn’t tie everything up neatly—that would have been too flat—it ends hopeful and strong.

The Pain Eater is a powerful and affecting story. It also demands discussion. This is not a book you can forget about when you close the covers. I needed to talk about it. It opens a dialogue about bullying, gender roles, pain, sexual assault, responsibility for the choices we make. Every teenager should read this book—every parent should read this book. Discuss.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (5/5 hearts)

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