It’s senior year, and Hadley and her best friend, Magda, should be starting the year together. Instead, Magda is dead and Hadley is alone. Raped at a party the year before and humiliated, Magda was driven to take her own life and Hadley is forced to see her friend’s attackers in the classroom every day. Devastated, enraged and needing an outlet for her grief, Hadley decides to get a little justice of her own.
Donning a pink ski mask and fueled by anger, Hadley goes after each of the guys one by one, planning to strip them of their dignity and social status the way they did to Magda. As the legend of the pink-masked Vigilante begins to take on a life of its own, Hadley’s revenge takes a turn for the dangerous. Could her need for vengeance lead her down a path she can’t turn back from?
I would advise caution here – this a content warning for mentions of rape in this review, and trigger warning for mentions and depictions of sexual assault in the book.
Vigilante has left me a bit on the fence as to how to rate this book. I am leaning for more than 3 but not so much as 4. The reason for the former is that it excellently calls out the rape culture that is prevalent in the world; the fact that sexual assault is rarely ever treated with the kind of brevity that it deserves, and most often the victims are blamed or jeered at. The reason for the latter is that despite all its good intentions to the contrary, the book comes off as preachy and inorganic sometimes, and Trying Too Hard at most.
I won’t go into explaining the plot because it is right there in the blurb and is pretty straightforward and obvious from there. If you watch the MTV show Sweet/Vicious (also part of the reason I took up this book), you can pretty much even guess how the plotline of the book is going to be. Hadley becomes a vigilante to avenge the gang rape and suicide of her best friend. In doing so, she awakens a collective rising of women in her town to protect other women who are targets of sexual assault. She starts out with vengeance but moves on to protection, but the four classmates responsible for her friend’s fate are still her main target. Her rage and guilt drives her for most of the book, but towards the end it is more like fierce protectiveness.
Look, I like that it inspires a feeling of sisterhood and looking out for other women, but it also largely still places the burden of prevention of sexual assault on women, because the book stresses a lot on the self defense classes that she and the local Detective teach – it is frequently mentioned throughout the book that the numbers swell as the Pink Vigilante gains infamy. It does, on two separate occasions, blame perpetrator’s entitlement as the main cause for sexual assault, as well as point out that roofied victims (male or female) can’t fight back, and while it was appreciated, at that point it seems like it is just to cover all the bases. Also the Some Good Men thing was pointed out (presumably to not anger male fans) but that is not what this issue is about, dude. In trying to be more inclusive of key points, the main issue was somehow diminished. Also, can we stop praising boys for achieving basic decency levels? Her friends were going on and on about what a ‘good guy’ Gabriel is – which he was, but they didn’t even know him personally enough to make that judgement!
As for characters, I don’t think Hadley undergoes much of a development. She is angry throughout the book, and only at the end does she gain some sort of peace – wanting an out because she has done what she wanted. Obviously she goes too far, but the way it is written you can’t really connect with her. In a plot so charged with emotion and with a character so complex facing such a monumental change, the fact that you feel disconnected from the horror that a girl faces when she does something she didn’t think she was capable of, it just goes to say that the writing was not up to far. I hate to make comparisons, but for an example, The Female of the Species has a very involved and immersive experience with respect to the protagonist.
Another thing I was a bit discomforted by was victim-blaming. Hadley, in one moment of frustration calls it out as her friend’s mistake. Granted, she took it back, but the fact that the thought even occurred was meant to highlight the fact that rape culture means it is something we, as women, have been brought up to believe. It comes up in the book how girls are taught to be afraid and blame the victim, but boys are not taught not to create that fear, so the suggestion by the plot that within months, most of the girls and women in the book are ‘cured’ of this insidious conditioning is a reach, at best. It is idealistic and does not help anyone to think change is affected so easily, even in fiction, when news cycles are still full of brutal cases of sexual assault that are still, in a corner of most people’s minds attributed as the victim’s fault, even though almost everyone knows better.
Female friendships were promoted, but only topically. The dialogue was stilted between them, and without much build-up as to how the girls come to care for each other. Instead, an unnecessary romantic subplot was carried out, which though providing for convenient alibi, still did not sit right with me, particularly with Gabriel acting a bit controlling of her, at times. I guess, it overall, provides a message that feminism doesn’t mean to hate men, but it really had no place in this book about women affected from sexual assault trying to avenger the crimes committed against them. Overall, it is still a good book, just a little bit preachy at times; still it tackles a tough topic and tries to give it good treatment.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Dark Horse Manga, via Edelweiss.