Jenny is a quiet college freshman at MacCallum College whose classmates call her Jenny-Mouse. A diligent pre-med student, she lugs around an enormous backpack, and her roommate, Haley, thinks to herself, “That girl is way stronger than she looks.” Haley knows firsthand about strength and the fragility of it; a star soccer player, she’s benched in the beginning of the book due to a potentially career-ending concussion – her third one.

In “Wrecked,” a young adult novel by Maria Padian, there is more to a person than meets the eye.

Jenny goes out of her comfort zone and attends a party at Conundrum House, a fraternity referred to as “the campus Animal House,” and afterwards she says she was raped. The story is told in alternating points of view, by Haley, the roommate, and by Richard, a housemate of Jordan’s, the alleged rapist. Interspersed between these perspectives is a more dramatic telling of what happened on the fateful night. At one point, Jenny asks Haley, “Think a rapist is some tats-covered dude with a knife? Try a friendly guy with a great smile.”

Padian excels at showing the messy aftermath of a sexual crime in a college community – and the lengths that the administration goes to protect itself. Jordan is a legacy student, and the college has an interest in handling the situation in such a way that doesn’t mar its reputation. Adding to the dramatic tension, Jenny is anonymously bullied by others on campus who accuse her of being a liar. She’s also made to feel invisible by fellow students who don’t ask her how she’s doing.

“You’re not awful,” Haley tells a character named Madison. “You’re typical. No one asks her. I get that it’s awkward, but it just makes her feel… shamed. As if she’s done something wrong, or she’s stained in some way.” The girls who went to the party with Jenny “wouldn’t admit they left” and claimed that Jenny “disappeared.” Everywhere she turns, it seems as though people question her story – especially as some of the details she remembers are proven to be wrong.

And then there’s the title of the book. The word “wrecked” is used several times throughout the novel. “Something bad happened to (Jenny),” Haley says at one point. “She was okay and now she’s…wrecked.” Elsewhere, a girl who attended the party with Jenny says, “We were all pretty wrecked.” Wrecked as both destruction and drunkenness.


This is a novel about truth and the damage done – to a community, to a person, and to relationships – when hard truths are hidden. Padian doesn’t just focus on Jenny’s story: There’s also a romantic angle as Haley and Richard get to know each other, despite a serious conflict of interest. They are each chosen as confidential advisors by Jenny and Jordan in the investigation led by the college. But that doesn’t keep them from falling for each other.

“Wrecked” should be assigned to all incoming freshman, especially fraternity members. It’s not enough to have students sit through lectures about sexual assault and rape. They need to learn about it through a story where they see humans instead of statistics, and, as in “Wrecked,” the very real ripple effects that such a crime can have on an entire campus.

Michele Filgate is vice president for awards for the National Book Critics Circle and a contributing editor at Literary Hub. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Salon, The Paris Review Daily, and many other publications.

Twitter: @readandbreathe

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