There’s no backspace key for life’s decisions.
Samantha and Dylan are in love – everyone knows it. So it’s no big deal when they leave a party for some time out together. But when malicious rumours surface about that night, each feels betrayed by the other.
Will Sam make a decision she can’t take back?
All I remember from my high school sex ed classes is biological descriptions of reproductive systems and STIs. There was little focus on unwanted advances and talk of rape conjured images of violence, not coercion. It took me much longer to learn the absence of ‘no’ is not ‘yes’, that sexual assault takes many forms.
Teen couple Sam and Dylan have been dating almost a year and things have been getting more physical. The Things We Can’t Undo opens on the night of a friend’s house party with Dylan clutching a condom. He thinks they’re ready, Sam doesn’t refuse his advances. But she’s distant, upset afterwards and ignores him at school the following day. Her diary entries and messages to friends tell a different story: Sam didn’t want to have sex. Rumours about the encounter are quick to fly around school and everyone is vocal in their opinions.
Reid’s debut is a powerful, confronting exploration of sex and consent. Chapters alternate between Dylan’s narration and collections of Sam’s correspondence, diary entries, and report cards. What surprised me initially was Dylan’s narration. Focusing on the male perspective was incredibly effective. Sam’s voice is never silenced though, and there are many women in the book which speak out for victims of sexual assault. The novel balances thought-provoking discussions of consent and relationships, without taking an authoritative or condescending tone. It’s also fast-paced and I found myself easily lost in the pages.
The Things We Can’t Undo is a compelling novel and deserves to be read, but Dylan’s perspective opens it to a much wider audience. As much as I would love teens to choose books without consideration for gender, I’m sure teen boys will be more likely to read this and hopefully give thought to its themes. Yet Dylan’s story never feels contrived; it is authentic and emotional. I loved the way his relationship with sister Hazel was explored. I loved the way she supported Dylan without blindly taking his side, instead explaining where he had gone wrong.
If you have followed my blog or social media for any length of time, you’ll know I have strong feminist views. I wasn’t always this way though, and reading The Things We Can’t Undo did make me wonder how my 17-year-old self would have reacted. It is a thoughtful and moving novel, deftly exploring an issue which can too easily be polarised by online commentary.
If you’d like to hear more about consent and sex education, check out our chat with The Things We Can’t Undo author Gabrielle Reid on Better Words. Listen now.
Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book for review.