Blurb: The Victim: A sixteen-year-old girl with facial deformities, neglected by an alcoholic mother. Who accuses the boys of something unthinkable.
The Defendants: Four handsome teenage boys from hardworking immigrant families. All with corroborating stories.
Whose side would you take?
Zara Kaleel, one of London’s brightest young legal minds, shattered the expectations placed on her by her family and forged a glittering career at the Bar. All before hanging up her barrister’s wig to help the victims who needed her most. Victims like Jodie Wolfe.
Jodie’s own best friend doesn’t even believe her claims that their classmates carried out such a crime. But Zara does. And Zara is determined to fight for her.
Jodie and Zara become the centre of the most explosive criminal trial of the year, in which ugly divisions within British society are exposed. As everything around Zara begins to unravel she becomes even more determined to get Jodie the justice she’s looking for. But at what price?
Kia Abdullah does not pull any punches with this book!
Take It Back follows the story of Zara, an ex-lawyer with addiction problems, who is supporting Jodie through a rape accusation and subsequent trial. Jodie is accusing four Muslim boys from her school of gang-raping her. The problem – or one of the many problems – is that not even Jodie’s own mum or best friend believe her story. You see, Jodie has a severe facial deformity that impacts her ability to speak clearly and also affects her perceived worth as a subject of sexual advances. Despite the fact, clearly noted more than once by the author, that rape is an act of power rather than sex, people struggle with the idea that these handsome and intelligent young men would have ‘chosen’ someone visually ‘imperfect’ to target.
Oh, also, the boys all thoroughly deny her story – all of it!
The trouble is, for Zara and for me, that when we are shown Jodie’s perspective I believe her. But when we are shown the boy’s perspectives, I believe them too (well, some of them). Their stories directly contradict each other, so someone MUST be lying. The question, of course, is who…?
I don’t have to point out that the subject matter is harrowing and could trigger some people, but the author handles it well and treats all of her characters sympathetically and with as little judgement as possible. Not only are Jodie, Zara and the boys all given a chance to show their perspective on events, but this is the first legal-thriller novel I can remember reading where there are no corrupt cops, evil lawyers or incompetent judges. Instead, Kia Abdullah shows us a law enforcement and legal system of decent people trying to do a good job with the information they have available. The prosecution and police aren’t out to ‘stitch up’ the accused and the defense isn’t trying to weasel them out of things unfairly. The real enemies in this story are the tabloids, whipping up their usual feeding frenzy of human misery, and the pack mentality of the general public when presented with partial facts on a subject that invokes strong feelings.
I know the label of ‘thought-provoking’ is something of a cliché, but Take It Back really does force the reader to confront their own unconscious biases, whether related to race, religion, sex, sexuality, disability, addiction or mental health. For instance, you may initially doubt Zara’s ability to do a good job on behalf of Jodie, due to her personal issues with substance abuse. Yet the author shows that such stereotyped views may hold grains of truth but are always more nuanced and complex when it comes to the capacities and abilities of individuals.
Similarly, you may find you lose track of the truth in this story while eagerly chasing the lies. Kia Abdullah has cleverly woven a tale in which the reader follows the same path, and takes a similar mental and emotional journey, as the main character, and emerges both shocked and more socially aware.
The girl was quiet for a moment. Then, in a voice that was soft and papery, said, ‘Five days ago, I was raped.’
Zara’s expression was inscrutable.
Jodie searched for a reaction. ‘You don’t believe me,’ she said, more a statement than a question.
Zara frowned. ‘Is there a reason I shouldn’t?’
– Kia Abdullah, Take It Back
Take It Back is available on Amazon right now!