Published: 3 October 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Category: Young Adult/Contemporary/Mental Health
I have three months left to call Katie my older sister. Then the gap will close and I will pass her. I will get older. But Katie will always be fifteen, eleven months and twenty-one days old.
Hannah’s world is in pieces and she doesn’t need the school counsellor to tell her she has deep-seated psychological issues. With a seriously depressed mum, an injured dad and a dead sister, who wouldn’t have problems?
Hannah should feel terrible but for the first time in ages, she feels a glimmer of hope and isn’t afraid anymore. Is it because the elusive Josh is taking an interest in her? Or does it run deeper than that?
In a family torn apart by grief and guilt, one girl’s struggle to come to terms with years of torment shows just how long old wounds can take to heal.
Rating: 5 Stars
Trigger Warning for bullying, including anti-gay/anti-transgender comments
Protected has a lot to talk about in its run time. There’s bullying, grief, and traumatic events. The book examines these from Hannah’s point of view and through that the reader witnesses how not everyone will react the same after an event like the one that killed Katie, Hannah’s sister. Not everyone is brought to justice and sometimes, justice is more complicated than right/wrong, black/white.
There are a lot of strong feelings in this book, depending upon who you’re looking at in a given scene. Hannah has a lot of sadness and a lot of anger, stemming from the bullying forced upon her and from the after effects of the car accident that changed her family.
Hannah’s mother sinks into a deep depression after the death of her elder daughter, but there’s also anger toward her husband, the driver of the car carrying her daughters and himself, but there’s also frustration toward Hannah, the only witness to the accident from that perspective. She wants to know what happened, who’s to blame, and since Hannah initially blocks out the traumatic event, her feelings turn against her husband and inward toward herself.
There are some slightly removed influences, such as Nanna (Hannah’s maternal grandmother) and Mrs. Van (the next door neighbor), that are affected by the tragedy but have different opinions of grief than the core family does. While Katie’s immediate family is encapsulated by her death, and the fact that her father is being tried as culpable in the accident, Nanna and Mrs. Van encourage moving forward and not becoming forever entrenched in their grief.
There’s a conflicting emotion that arose in this book, I think, with regards to Katie and we see this in what Hannah goes through and the flashbacks to the funeral, to school after the accident, and the scenes Hannah reflects upon of the two of them growing up. When someone dies, there’s this thing that happens that causes people in and around the situation to wipe clean the sins of the dead person and I could see it happening with Katie and the people that tormented Hannah.
Every interaction I had with Katie when she was alive and when Hannah “saw” her ghost beside her lead me to the conclusion that Katie was not a nice person. She was horrible to her sister and she lied a lot, both to her parents and Jensen, the person she was dating shortly before her death. However, at the funeral in particular, the people that had bullied Hannah and even those that had never been friends with Katie, were acting like she was a saint. It was a very sad occasion, of course, but what is it that makes mean people suddenly so kind after they’re gone?
Hannah’s experience, dealing with the changes of her world after the death of her sister, the fact that she’ll have to testify at a hearing in which her father is being prosecuted for the accident, and in who she is now that the bullying has subsided but never fully addressed, was an emotionally fraught experience. I could feel a sickness in my stomach when people were confronting her, the worry and anxiety she had that the bullying would pick back up again. It was terrifying, written very well, and made the characters very real rather than flimsy background people.
The bullying aspect of this was, as I mentioned, sickening, but I think the worst part about it is that it’s never resolved, not really. Hannah misses school for a day and is being driven there the next day following some particularly horrible bullying event when the car accident occurs. After Katie’s death, it’s like Hannah becomes off limits. While I’m glad that she was at least left alone following a traumatic event, the Clones (the main perpetrators of the bullying) are never punished. No teacher ever finds out that they’re the ones that tormented Hannah, no one ever confronts them. Even Katie, before her death, never helped her sister because she was more interested in maintaining the image she had crafted before Hannah advanced to her school. It was intense and saddening and, thinking about it now, probably entirely too true. How many victims are there every day who are never given any justice?
A lot of contemporaries that I’ve read have had a romantic aspect to it and this one didn’t, which I appreciated so much. Josh, the character mentioned in the synopsis that might bring Hannah some hope, doesn’t fill that stereotypical romantic interest role. He’s a bit off putting at first and Hannah even worries that he’s acting nice as part of some larger act. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him because he did have a few annoying moments, but overall he turned out to be what Hannah needed most: a friend. They may become involved in the future, but for the course of the story their relationship was what it needed to be.
There is no real happy ending to this book. Some things are resolved, some things are not. I didn’t like some of those details, but it reflected real life more than I realized until I reflected upon it. Hannah’s life may still be difficult, it will always be affected by the actions of her sister, her peers, and the after effects of losing her sister, but there is a spark of hope that comes not only from the people supporting her, but from the strength she finds within herself to endure.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.