Jackie Morse Kessler – Rage

Missy didn’t mean to cut so deep. But after the party where she was humiliated in front of practically everyone in school, who could blame her for wanting some comfort? Sure, most people don’t find comfort in the touch of a razorblade, but Missy always was… different.
That’s why she was chosen to become one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War. Now Missy wields a new kind of blade—a big, brutal sword that can cut down anyone and anything in her path. But it’s with this weapon in hand that Missy learns something that could her triumph over her own pain: control.
A unique approach to the topic of self-mutilation, Rage is the story of a young woman who discovers her own power, and refuses to be defeated by the world.

After Hunger, Rage is the second book in the Riders of the Apocalypse series, a quartet of books in which Jackie Morse Kessler approaches difficult topics in a very direct and yet sensitive manner. In Rage she tackles self mutilation or cutting as it’s more commonly known. Cutting is a frightening thing, one that is very hard to understand for those not suffering from that compulsion. It’s very hard to believe someone would cause themselves pain on purpose. In addition, it looks scary; it’s bloody and leaves scars. In short, this is not the most comfortable of topics. Yet Kessler handles it with aplomb, trying to explain to the reader the why of Missy’s cutting, showing why it’s wrong without ever condemning her main character for what she does.

Kessler shows how trapped Missy is in her behaviour very skilfully. She shows that even if Missy wants to escape her blade (hence her mantra) she feels there is no other way, because talking to anyone would only confirm she was nuts. Missy is relatable in her angst and anger, however she’s got more of it than your regular teen. We don’t really get an explanation on why Missy has such anxiety and anger issues, but then again, sometimes there just aren’t any reasons for them other than a combination of character traits, the onset of puberty and just plain bad luck. Some people are more vulnerable to anxiety issues than others without there being a specific reason, just as some people are more prone to weight gain than others. And while it would, perhaps, have been easier if there had been a clear cut reason for Missy’s problems, such as a trauma or abuse, I like that Kessler went the more nebulous angst and anger route, as it brings home the point that this could happen to anyone, even those you don’t expect it to happen to.

One of the great pleasures of this book was visiting with the characters of Death and Famine again. I loved these characters in the previous book, even though Famine isn’t Lisa from the first book I think, and in this book it becomes clear that the Aspects the Riders personify have their own characters and memories, as shown by some of the dialogue between Famine and Missy shows. Death still looks and sounds like Kurt Cobain and it bears repeating, that made this former grunge girl squee—even if I was more into Pearl Jam than Nirvana! Plus we got to meet Pestilence in the flesh this time. This is one cool character and I can’t wait to see how Kessler will work him into his own story in the next book. One of the things Kessler did very well was to simplify the rather overwhelming concepts of the four aspects, in this case War. She manages to bring the concept of War down to a personal scale… war isn’t just death and destruction, it’s also the inner struggle with a difficult decision or the anger at a (perceived) slight at work or school. It makes the decisions Missy has to make less intimidating and more acceptable.

One thing that was a bit tricky was that there is a lot of sexiness in this book between Death and Missy. This was confusing, because on the one hand, eww as Death is ancient and Missy is just sixteen. On the other hand, not so eww as Missy is not just sixteen, she’s also suffused by the spirit of War, and Death and War have been close companions forever. So it’s up to personal taste on which side you come down. I found it less convincing, both because at times it made Missy seem a little suicidal and because, seriously, someone as screwed up as Missy shouldn’t be getting into any relationship until she’s figured stuff out.

I liked the ending of the book, though the story was resolved rather quickly. I was really glad the ‘Missy killed her cat’-comment gets clarified in the end, as that was bothering me a lot during the narrative, because how can you like someone who deliberately kills their cat? As in Hunger, the end emphasises that there is no magic cure, Missy will struggle every day to stay off the blade and it will take a long time before she’s close to cured. I said this in the review for Hunger as well, but I really think this is important to stress. Too often on TV, in films and in books, once someone decides to change their life, it seems to happen instantly and without much fuss and that just isn’t true for the issues Kessler addresses in her books and I really appreciate the fact that she doesn’t hide from that fact.

Rage is another impressive entry in the Riders series and I’m looking forward to the next instalment, Loss, which will be released in March. I think these books are not just entertaining, but also very educational and as such should be on reading lists of secondary schools everywhere. Even if you’re no longer a teen, Rage is a book that deserves to be read, not just for the awareness it raises about self harming, but because it is an impressive, thought-provoking read, that educates without preaching to the reader. Go buy and read this book and its predecessor, Hunger. Not only will you be rewarded with a good read, you’ll also be supporting a good cause, as part of the proceeds go to charity.