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Following controversial activist student Jules and alienated scholarship student Jamie, TRADITION by Brendan Kiely explores the collision of dark and uncomfortable realities with idealized traditions when tragedy occurs.

Set at the beginning of senior year at the reputable Fullbrook Academy, TRADITION introduces reads to Jules, who finds herself hoping to merely survive her year without falling into the drama of the prep school. Meanwhile, Jamie Baxter is seeking redemption from the mistakes that haunt him from his past. Both characters quickly find themselves unable to ignore the hypocrisy and elitism that surrounds them at all times. The grim reality of the deeply flawed world they live in is exposed when a history of sexual assault is unearthed. Banding together to fight against the authorities at their school and the tradition that is used as a scapegoat against dangerous allegations, Jules and Jamie realize the extent to which wealth controls their lives and have to face the question: is a future worth dealing with an immoral institution?

I want to start this review by saying that I absolutely love that Kiely chose to tackle such a large issue. With the increased resources and attention given to the survivors of assault --- especially the rise of the #metoo movement --- books like these are capitalizing on the momentum of a desperately needed social movement and helping to bring justice to the girls who are wronged. Novels covering assault and exposing the structures used to silence survivors are crucial for furthering social justice for women. That being said, while I applaud the subject material Kiely chose to tackle, I did not love the novel as a whole.

"The fast pace that Kiely sets for his novel is intriguing at first but unfortunately fails to give necessary time to create depth and a flow to the plot..."

The odd thing about TRADITION was that I adored the first hundred pages and then almost immediately my opinion changed. My problem came about halfway through the book when I realized that the novel was underdeveloped. I was missing crucial character and plot development that would have made the novel far more tragic and human. The fast pace that Kiely sets for his novel is intriguing at first but unfortunately fails to give necessary time to create depth and a flow to the plot: it was choppy. I thought that the sections the book was divided into skipped major periods of time that were critical for character development and picked up without readers being able to see characters really struggle through their issues which devalued a lot of the more intense and emotional issues within the novel.

Another issue I found within the novel is that the villains were one dimensional. Every character was predictable, especially the antagonists. For tackling such a complex and multifaceted issue, the people that Kiely paints are one minded and seem to have no inner battles over whether what they are doing is morally incorrect. There were two ways where I found myself very upset by the lack of layers in characters: the principal and the freshman girls. When faced with the knowledge that his school has become an unsafe place for women, the principal of Fulbook does not do anything to address it. While the conflict between moral correctness and money is the primary battle of the novel, the notion that the principal of the school wouldn’t seem slightly upset at the decision he was faced with seemed unrealistic and naive. The depiction of freshman girls was my least favorite part of the novel; the girls were mindless and completely infatuated with boys and nothing else. Frankly, it was a little offensive and completely unrealistic that not a single girl was interested in hearing what Jules had to say and showed no compassion. People are largely dynamic especially on issues like sexual assault but Kiely does not manage to capture this.

"Jamie was the shining star of the novel, both tragic and heroic and always deeply contemplative and human."

Kiely struggled with antagonists, but the best part of the novel was Jamie’s perspective. Jamie was incredibly well rounded and dynamic. I could feel his struggle to decide whether to do what was morally the right thing to do at the expense of his second chance at a future and it was because of this complicated internal struggle that the book was compelling. Jamie also gave a phenomenal outside perspective into the Fullbrook world that the novel needed --- without Jamie’s inexperience in the world of privilege readers would find themselves confused at some of the actions “normal” in a world of wealth and tradition but perplexing to normal life. Jamie was the shining star of the novel, both tragic and heroic and always deeply contemplative and human.

Books like TRADITION offer important insights into the complex world of privilege and how it has the ability to halt forward social movements, but I hope future authors can find ways to make the novels more realistic. Sexual assault is a complex and pertinent issue in modern times and I think that Kiely makes the mistake of not slowing down and taking more time to analyze the issue more deeply and thoughtfully.

Reviewed by Anna Kate L., Teen Board Member on July 10, 2018

by Brendan Kiely

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • ISBN-10: 1481480340
  • ISBN-13: 9781481480345