Rachel Rueben

Labels belong on cans, cigarette packages, medicine bottles to warn us of the dangers and side effects before taking a specific drug, liquor bottles to enlighten consumers as to the ingredients they are about to imbibed and boxes of foods informing us of the number of calories, fats, trans fats and sugars in the cereal you might want to eat for breakfast. Labels are not supposed to be placed on people but they are. Black, white, fat, thin, old, young, straight or gay why are we often differentiated by our outer appearances, personal preferences or social choices? Audrey Saldano is about to learn many lessons in life. Audrey has become very complacent. She has disregarded her appearance, lost weight, anti-social, feeling ostracized and definitely not focused on anything dealing with that E word Education. Audrey seems to be in her own form of doldrums and why? Teenage boys and girls fall prey to social acceptance and peer pressures. When Audrey’s boyfriend decides to find another girlfriend rather than chalk it up to no big deal, or his loss, she reverts into herself, forgets who she really is and hopes to be able to walk that path already beaten and trodden and get the same guy back. But, Audrey will learn before all is said and done that some paths are so worn that you need to start your own in order to work your way back up to who you really are. Like a pyramid formed by 25 kids and you are the one at the top and fall the hardest when the pyramid comes down and the base gives way. Hag, by Rachel Rueben you don’t want to miss a word of this one.

As Audrey walks through the double doors of her High School her mind is focused on other things and not on Mrs. Goldman the guidance counselor’s forms that need to be turned in or the gym teachers 50 question quiz that no one expected. Life presents many challenges and it is up to you to decide how to handle them. Taking the impromptu test Audrey flashes back to Desmond, her ex-boyfriend and the impact it has had on her many friendships. Some friends remaining and others lost because of the breakup. Sad, what teens have to endure but what happens next is tragic as a secret is revealed, lives are changed and Audrey’s world will be shattered, changed and destroyed with one simple word. Low expectations is what others had for her and she did nothing at the present to change their perceptions or even her own. Parents that were stressed, money that was tight and arguments that ran high as one day blended into the next. The following day was not any different than the day before. Meeting a cute guy, blowing him off and the anger she focuses on everyone lets the reader know that before all is said and done Audrey’s life will definitely take a downward spiral along with so many others.

School becomes a nightmare but Audrey decides to teach Desmond’s girlfriend a lesson she will never forget resulting in her new found popularity. Meeting a great new guy who sizzles and pops when you look at him, Roddai cannot take the place of Desmond even though she finds him interesting. But, something happens and Desmond calls to apologize and a new friendship blooms but not for long. Asking her to join him at a carnival should have been two friends just having some fun but when they jumped by a group of boys from a posh school what happens would change the course of their lives forever. Roddai jumps in to defend Desmond he winds up in the hospital along with Audrey. Retaliation comes at a high price but not before we learn that Audrey’s grandmother is coming to live with her family after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Life takes a different turn for Audrey, Desmond, Carmen and their friends when Desmond decides to go after the boys he jumped him and Audrey. The end result might make teens think twice before going off headstrong. Desmond is seriously injured and dies hours later. One Winter Carnival that was supposed to be fun and one young man’s life lost as hidden secrets are about to be revealed and once again Audrey comes face to face with tragedy and has to learn to deal with lies and deceits that were so well defined and covered up she never saw what was right in front of her.

When the reader listens and revisits some of the final conversations between Desmond and Audrey you can sense that he wanted to tell her something but never did. All too often words and feelings are kept hidden from those we care about the most in order to spare them the hurt and pain that will follow.

As Audrey and Roddai develop a friendship they move at a definite slow rhythm. Audrey gets a job and soon gets fired when Desmond old girlfriend makes a comment about Roddai and she won’t take it. When the truth about him comes out and the gossip comes full circle just what will Audrey do next? Her highly volatile temper keeps rearing through and learning the truth about why the original fight happened and that they were after Roddai and not Desmond. Learning the truth about him and Desmond reading over the texts and looking over what his mother gave her many truths come to light but what she does next proves that she has a long way to go.

But, things get out of hand and seeing Roddai while shopping with her mom does not change the way she feels and only ignites her even more. Things change and Audrey sees life in a whole other way when Roddai is gunned down and the end result will surprise the reader. Friendships end, trust are betrayed and one young woman named Audrey needs to find her place in this world but will she? An ending that will definitely keep you guessing and wanting more and a girl who comes full circle with her feelings, tolerance of others and a new perspective about life.

Hag is filled with strong language, descriptive dialogue and plot that really hits home and characters that just might be living next door to you. What do you do when you know someone is guilty? Do you tell? What do you do when the world seems to be filled with so many obstacles that you do not know which way to turn? Find out when you read Hag. Audrey is one self-reliant, tough and no holds barred young woman who fights for what she thinks is right and goes to bat for those she loves.

This is one book that teens, YA’s, educators, guidance counselors, libraries, church and discussion groups should have on their shelves. This is one intense novel and Rachel Rueben’s debut as an author is definitely FIVE STAR. There are many definitions of a hag that can be applied to this book. Just which one you need to find out for yourself and learn that differences are to be embraced and if I tell you which definition applies it would take away from deciding if what it means really matters. Labels belong on soup cans, envelopes when they are addressed, mailing lists and of course medicine bottles as I stated before. Labels do not define a person. Appearance does not define who you are. Hag: read it: You won’t be disappointed.

Fran Lewis: reviewer


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