Thank you to Netgalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for an early copy of this in exchange for my honest review.
Before I start my review, Jessica Kingsley Publishers are amazing. They publish books that they know will make a difference. These books range from topics of dyslexia, Asperger’s, gender issues, trans rights, etc,. I think they are amazing, not many publishers dedicate their company to books that help young people deal with social topics.
What Does Consent Really Mean is a graphic novel written by Peter Wallis & Thalia Wallis, illustrated by Joseph Wilkins. As it says on the cover, this book is about consent. The novel follows a group of teenage boys and girls as they discover a classmate has been raped and people are posting hurtful comments online about it. This opens a discussion about rape, consent and if you should say yes or no. It’s a very short graphic novel and I flew through it in about half an hour but the message of the novel is so potent that it is definitely worth the read. Plus, a lot of people in my life – including children and teenagers – tell me that they do not have time to read. 63 pages of a graphic novel do not take long and with a story like this, it is a necessary novel to read.
In recent times, rape and rape culture has become part of our dialogue. We speak about it frequently; on the news, on social media, in person – anywhere and everywhere, you will find you are faced with something that is becoming a widely discussed topic. However, some of the discussions surrounding rape and consent are wrong and do not educate or help people understand. Some media outlets use rape as a tool to get views – some shows and films through it in for the scandal whilst others keep it historically and socially accurate.
What this graphic novel doesn’t do is sensationalize this heinous crime. The reader becomes part of a gang of teenagers and feels like they are listening alongside them as they walk through the park, meet up with boys and ‘share’ a plate of chips. Through this, their discussion of consent begins.
The characters discuss how people do not “deserve it” because they had something “shit” happen and that no-one has a right to force someone to have sex, even if they are drunk (which is how the girl is raped in the first place – she was knocked out drunk and somebody took advantage).
The girls are the main group discussing consent and all are diverse and you can see all of their situations – they are all from different ethnic backgrounds and all have different relationships. The girls learn through their chat with each other that consent is an “enthusiastic yes” and that they should not be pressured by anyone, even if their boyfriend’s make them feel bad. When the boys join the conversation, the discussion turns to expectations and consent among men too.
All of these are valuable lessons to be learned and as they are told through the comic strip it is easier to read and feel immersed in for people who do not want to or have a hard time reading.
This book is not for children as there is small swear words in and it is a difficult topic but I would suggest this for anybody going into high school and further. Men and women need to know what consent is and when it is not okay to do something and through this storytelling with relatable characters and friendly faces everyone can learn something.
I gave this book 5 stars. It is a book that needs to be on shelves and seen by all, especially as the topic of ‘consent’ is still one that seems to be lost in translation for some people.