TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Susan Shaw's "Safe" feels to me a bit like a gentler "Speak," perhaps one geared more toward younger girls. The novel begins on Tracy's last day of 7th grade, as she is walking home from a half day of school with her best friend Caroline. An older teen in an orange car grabs Tracy just as Caroline's front door slams, attacks her, and leaves her for dead in the street. In the aftermath of the assault, Tracy spends a summer as a virtual prisoner, afraid to leave the safety of home to visit friends, hike in the woods, or attend her beloved basketball camp. Tracy's dad is super understanding, giving her plenty of support, and even taking her to see a therapist. But Tracy is so closed off from the experience that it takes almost the entire book for her to attach the word "rape" to what happened to her. As the summer passes, we see Tracy struggle with disturbing thoughts, which continue to arise despite all her best efforts to move beyond the rape. Tracy's only real refuge during this time is her piano playing, which is a hobby she didn't much enjoy prior to the attack. During the summer, Tracy discovers a newfound love of music, spending entire days at the piano, practicing, composing new music, and losing herself and her troubles in the notes that she plays.
"Safe" is a short novel that packs quite a punch. There are elements of poetry throughout the book (Tracy cherishes a poem copied from a magazine and repeatedly recites to herself a snippet of an old lullaby), which give the whole novel a quiet, lyrical tone. Tracy's attack is also portrayed very discretely, with no shock value or gratuitous details. Instead, the novel focuses on Tracy repairing the battered part of her spirit, and, as such, the book is ultimately quite hopeful and inspiring. My only criticism, and it is admittedly slight, lies in the fact that Tracy's friends and schoolmates seem remarkably immune to gossip about her assault. When Tracy returns to school, even boys (8th grade boys, mind you) that she barely knows are sensitive and encouraging. Malicious gossip among teens is so prevalent — consider how many times you've recently read a news story on cyberbullying — that creating a world where it doesn't exist at all struck me as patently false. Other than that minor criticism, I have no hesitation recommending this book to middle school readers.