Is there a person alive who was bullied in high school and who didn’t fantasize about getting revenge? This is the premise of Love Heather by Laurie Petrou. If you’re after something darker to read over the holidays, then this may well be the book for you, although it comes with some hefty trigger warnings including sexual assault, transphobia, eating disorders, and many types of high school bullying.
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Stevie and Lottie have been best friends forever, but when they become part of the popular crowd, that quickly begins to change. The distance between the pair widens as Lottie deals with changes at home, and overnight without any warning, Stevie becomes a pariah at her school. Her phone is soon overflowing with vicious comments posted all over her social media accounts including her YouTube channel where she talks at length about classic cinema. With her mom entranced by a new boyfriend, estranged dad focused on his new business the next town over, BFF turned against her, and the only other adult she trusted recently out and focused on transitioning, Stevie feels she has no one to turn to.
Finding herself entirely ostracized, Stevie befriends Dee, a new girl at school who encourages Stevie to change her attitude and take back control. Together they begin targeting the bullies with pranks that have the whole school talking, pranks they sign “Love, Heather” in homage to their favorite ’80s movie. Soon, however, the pranks escalate beyond control and no one is safe, with the adults entirely unable to control what is happening—if they’re even aware of the secrets lurking online. Finally, an event so awful occurs that it sends Stevie and Dee spiraling toward a horrific final plan for revenge.
This was an incredibly difficult book to read, but I couldn’t put it down. Stevie is an amazing character who countless teens will relate to, and her journey shows just how easy it is for hate to take hold in someone who is endlessly tormented and unable to escape—even online. Stevie’s march toward darker and darker acts is one we hope our own children will never follow, but it is terrifyingly understandable and believable too. With so much pressure heaped upon teens and horrific acts of violence against women in the news every day, Stevie’s is a story that could appear in the papers any day. The book ties Stevie and Dee’s actions to the repercussions of #MeToo and the Weinstein case, with the girls angry at how men get away with so much and determined to take matters into their own hands.
Love Heather is set in a modern-day setting with all the teens at Stevie’s small-town Canadian high school connected via dozens of ever-changing group chats and social media channels, as well as their physical location. The book shows how impossible it is not only for bullied teens to get away from their tormenters but for the adults in their lives to get a handle on what’s happening to their kids. As Stevie puts it,
“[Mom is] just like all the parents who think they’re keeping an eye on what we’re doing by being on Facebook or reading articles, but we’re slippery and fast. We’re so far ahead that they couldn’t catch up if they tried.”
While our generation got to walk away from our bullies at the end of the school day, the ubiquity of social media means that today’s high school students are in touch with their classmates 24/7, and in cases like Stevie’s, that endless connectivity has dire consequences.
Whilst the very opposite of a lighthearted read for the holiday season, Love, Heather is an important book—especially for parents of teens. Social media is here to stay, as is the technology used to access it, and the sooner we accept that bullying is no longer confined to high school corridors the better.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.