Author: Brendan Kiely
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication: May 1, 2018
Hardcover: 352 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
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The word “tradition” probably brings a number of things to mind. For me, it’s Poptarts on Christmas morning and Pronto Pups at the state fair. But not every tradition is so innocent, as Brendan Kiely shows in his latest book – he forgoes the innocuous and humorous to hone in on the illicit, dangerous and dehumanizing within the setting of an elite New England boarding school. I’m sharing my review and favorite quotes for this stop on the Tradition Blog Tour; you can follow along with the rest of the tour here, and don’t forget to read to the end for a giveaway!
Prestigious. Powerful. Privileged. This is Fullbrook Academy, an elite prep school where history looms in the leafy branches over its brick walkways. But some traditions upheld in its hallowed halls are profoundly dangerous.
Jules Devereux just wants to keep her head down, avoid distractions, and get into the right college, so she can leave Fullbrook and its old-boy social codes behind. She wants freedom, but ex-boyfriends and ex-best friends are determined to keep her in place.
Jamie Baxter feels like an imposter at Fullbrook, but the hockey scholarship that got him in has given him a chance to escape his past and fulfill the dreams of his parents and coaches, whose mantra rings in his ears: Don’t disappoint us.
When Jamie and Jules meet, they recognize in each other a similar instinct for survival, but at a school where girls in the student handbook are rated by their looks, athletes stack hockey pucks in dorm room windows like notches on a bedpost, and school-sponsored dances push first year girls out into the night with senior boys, the stakes for safe sex, real love, and true friendship couldn’t be higher.
As Jules and Jamie’s lives intertwine, and the pressures to play by the rules and remain silent about the school’s secrets intensify, they see Fullbrook for what it really is. That tradition, a word Fullbrook hides behind, can be ugly, even violent. Ultimately, Jules and Jamie are faced with the difficult question: can they stand together against classmates—and an institution—who believe they can do no wrong?
About the Author
Brendan Kiely is The New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), The Last True Love Story, and The Gospel of Winter. His work has been published in ten languages, received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award, the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, and was selected as one of the American Library Association’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults. Originally from the Boston area, he now lives with his wife in Greenwich Village.
Connect with the Author
My favorite quotes are interspersed in here. They’re in the extra big call-out text, can’t miss ’em!
Tradition is a powerful, pull-no-punches book that doesn’t shy away from pointing out the dangers of privilege, most notably directed toward sexism and rape culture. The narration alters between Jules and Jamie, and they each bring a unique perspective to the world of Fullbrook Academy, though they share a sense of not belonging.
Jules could belong. She did, until her senior year. Though she’s only grudgingly tolerated by her classmates now, her perspective comes with a deep understanding of how Fullbrook operates.
Just because I live there doesn’t mean it’s somewhere safe.
Jamie, on the other hand, is a complete outsider, and his perspective brings an element of classism to the table. Fullbrook is eager to capitalize on his athletic prowess in exchange for an exorbitant tuition scholarship, but his hockey teammates don’t have any qualms about letting him know that he’s not one of the good ol’ boys.
“If it wasn’t you, it’d be some goalie from Michigan or Maine or Wisconsin or wherever. It didn’t have to be you. Remember how lucky you are to be here.”
As the newcomer, Jamie is pulled between the lifestyle of his teammates – boatloads of money, vintage whisky, and countless faceless conquests – and his budding friendship with Jules, Fullbrook’s resident feminist. He could’ve been a “big man on campus” if not for her, and in each other they find an open pair of ears and a mind willing to admit that Fullbrook isn’t an idyllic paradise.
[Jules] seemed comfortable being on her own, but I didn’t like that everyone was just as comfortable ganging up on her.
Their combined perspectives paint an ugly picture of how “tradition” is used as an excuse to gloss over heinous behavior. The book’s sections center around a single night, a wild drunken party, and somebody’s refusal to listen to a word that is so small, yet so important. Through it all, Jules’s voice is strong and unwavering, but she knows the power and money and influence she’s fighting, and readers feel the feel the uphill nature of her battle against a deeply ingrained system that favors its extravagantly wealthy male students. She can speak, she can shout, but will anyone listen? There’s a moment when she’s waiting to meet with the headmaster, and is nearly overwhelmed by what the finely woven rugs, mahogany furniture, and rich furnishings represent.
Who was I in the midst of all of this?
She is someone, but she has to remind herself of that, with the help of Jamie and her few remaining friends, just as she helps them find contentment in their situations without sacrificing their scruples or personal identities to the pressures of Fullbrook. I appreciated how well-articulated Jules’s struggles with self-doubt were. It’s a shocking thing to watch unfold – as readers, we hold all the facts, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is in the right, yet we can understand how the constant degradation and belittling remarks would lead her to believe that she’s the crazy one.
How did I let it happen? I thought. Why did I let it happen?
It’s a harrowing depiction of victim silencing through both overt measures and mere indifference. Standing by and saying nothing isn’t as neutral as it might seem.
Collateral damage is real. What about collateral accountability?
Along with the expected commentary on sexism between guys and girls, there is a dark element of girls perpetuating such systems. There’s a scene where Jules finds her former friends forcing a disgusting tradition on the new freshmen girls, forgetting (or perhaps willfully ignoring) how those same events had driven them to tears and terror a few years earlier. How can the cycle possibly be broken when the people most hurt by it become the ones driving it forward?
My biggest question going into Tradition was how author Brendan Kiely would handle the ending. It’s a delicate balance to grant the harried, tormented main characters some semblance of hope and empowerment without going too far and creating a fairy tale ending where Fullbrook’s decades of…tradition…are upended, millions of dollars in support potentially tossed aside because equality. Without spoiling anything, I will say that I was pleased with the conclusion. I thought it was poignant and showcased the power and value of integrity without sacrificing realism.
..Deep down, all I wanted was to be a guy who knew how to do the right thing.
While many readers may not personally identify with the elite boarding school setting (or maybe that’s my Midwesterness showing), the core topics are so transcendent that it’s easy to think of the equivalent for any region or city – for my part of the world, it’d be goodbye hockey, hello football. Swap the girls’ cocktail dresses for cheerleading skirts or something covered in sorority letters and you’re on the same track. There is a shiny veneer to the top tier of any society, and the multi-faceted insider/outsider perspectives of Tradition will leave readers thinking about what they may have let slide in the past, just because that’s the way it’s always been.
It’s the way things work.
But if someone is willing to cut ruthlessly and relentless to the core, maybe it doesn’t have to stay that way.
You do not hear me. You do not see me. But you will.
Click here to enter to win 1 of 5 copies of Tradition. US only, open May 1-10.