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Tease is a 2014 Young Adult novel by Amanda Maciel that revolves around a high school student named Sara who, along with her best friend and three other classmates, is being criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to the suicide of fellow classmate, Emma Putnam. Ostracized by both the community and her peers alike, a bitter Sara blames Emma for ruining her life and doesn't think she did anything wrong. Now, as she prepares for the trial, Sara must reflect on the series of events that brought her to this point and how much responsibility she really has for Emma's death.

Inspired by the real-life suicide and bullying of Phoebe Prince, the book has faced mixed reviews for its unique portrayal of the effects of high school bullying as told from the bully's point of view. Compare to the elementary-school equivalent, Blubber by Judy Blume.

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Tropes include

  • Adults Are Useless:
    • Played with in the scene where the principal of Sara's school bans her and Brielle from attending an upcoming dance due to a cruel prank they played on Emma. This was not the first time the girls had been punished for their behavior, but rather than expel or suspend them, the principal was hoping they could all work it out on their own. They didn't.
    • When Sara returns to school in the fall, the administration announces a zero-tolerance policy for bullying after what happened with Emma. Despite this, Sara is still the target of comments and gossip.
    • Sara's mother was also unaware of exactly what her daughter was up to, but it was more due to her busy work schedule and Sara intentionally hiding things from her than outright apathy. Sara's absentee father, on the other hand, is pretty much useless.
  • Adult Fear:
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    • Emma's parents find themselves scrambling to save their daughter from the constant harassment she faces at school, ultimately failing when their daughter commits suicide while they're away at work. As Dylan points out, the whole reason why they're going to court is because it's the only way they can get closure and justice for what happened to Emma, and make sure it never happens to anyone else.
    • Sara's mother follows suit when she comes into Sara's room one day and confesses that she would be heartbroken if Sara ever considered following Emma's example and killing herself.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Sara spends most of the book obsessing over Dylan. Despite dating her at one point, he barely returns her affections and cheats on her with Emma.
  • All Men Are Perverts: This appears to be the attitude regarding most of the boys at Elmwood, particularly the ones in Sara's group of friends. Much of the harassment involving Emma comes from the fact that during her short time at the school, she went out with several different boys - some of whom already had girlfriends. Naturally though, it's all Emma's fault for dating them in the first place.
  • Alpha Bitch: Brielle, to the extent that Sara is amazed that the former was ever nice to her. Lampshaded in the fact that Sara says she wouldn't have been so mean to Emma had she not been following Brielle's lead.
  • Amoral Attorney: Played with, since the lawyers are being paid to represent the defendants (Sara and the others) and keep them out of jail by any means necessary. Averted during one notable incident when Sara's lawyer finds out about a prank she and Brielle played on Emma involving ordering fifty roses for her on Valentine's Day, and is visibly horrified.
  • An Aesop: Bullying is wrong and your actions have greater consequences than you think.
  • Appearance Angst: Sara goes through much of this throughout the course of the book, both in the present day and during the flashbacks. Despite all the effort she puts into her looks, as soon as she sees the pretty Emma, she feels insecure. Downplayed with her relationship with Carmichael, as she notes with some surprise that she's much less self-conscious around him.
  • Berserk Button: Emma makes a sarcastic remark when Sara and Brielle corner her in the girls' locker room, and before Sara knows what she's doing, she's shoving Emma into the lockers and threatening her. Sara herself is so shocked she has to retreat to the ladies' room to hide her Berserker Tears afterward.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sara finds herself forced to accept the plea deal of a year's probation in order to avoid jail time, while also accepting the consequences of her actions. The public still judges her for the role she played in Emma's suicide, and she has to prepare for college applications with her haphazard school record and the lingering effects of the lawsuit. She and Brielle are no longer on speaking terms, Dylan is out of the picture, and Emma is still dead. However, as a result of her Character Development, Sara becomes closer to her family and begins dating Carmichael. She also strives to be a better person and use what she has learned to make something meaningful out of her life.
  • Betty and Veronica: For Sara, the understanding and misunderstood loner Carmichael is Betty, while the popular and athletic Dylan is Veronica.
    • Played with when Sara views herself as the Betty to Dylan by being the "perfect" girlfriend who is always there for him, while the "slutty" Emma that he cheats on her with is the Veronica. In reality though, it was probably the other way around.
  • Bittersweet 17: The majority of the book takes place during Sara's junior year when she is seventeen years old. It is also mentioned that Emma committed suicide only a month before her seventeenth birthday.
  • Boarding School: Invoked by Brielle in the hopes that this will be Emma's ultimate fate after she transfers out of Elmwood. Sadly, this was not to be.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: During one of the flashbacks, Sara is shown taking a chemistry class with Brielle. She mentions that she is actually pretty good at chemistry, but as it is their only class together, prefers to spend the entire period talking to Brielle and their lab partners instead of doing work.
    • Averted with Carmichael. Sara at first assumes he's just another slacker since he misses so much school, and is surprised when she finds out how intelligent and well-read he is - he even helps her with Shakespeare during summer school English. Later, he mentions that the reason he was away from Elmwood so much was that he briefly moved in with his father in another city and thus had to change schools. Carmichael couldn't stand living with his father, though, so he came back to Elmwood and was thus too far behind to keep up in class.
  • Bullied into Depression: As a result of all the bullying she received (both prior to and during her time at Elmwood), Emma became clinically depressed. It is mentioned that prior to her suicide, she was taking antidepressants and seeing a therapist.
  • Close-Knit Community: Considering the effect of Emma's suicide and the court case that followed, it's implied that both Elmwood and its surrounding town are this.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: As she enters her senior year of high school, Sara must learn to accept responsibility for the part she played in Emma's death.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: At one point, Sara mentions offhandedly that she may have not been as mean to Emma if Brielle hadn't been encouraging her. She later lampshades at how ridiculous it sounds to blame her actions entirely on Brielle's influence.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Emma's parents are divorced, and her mother remarried a man in the military. They had to move because of his job, meaning Emma also had to change schools. It was mentioned that she faced bullying and harassment at her old school, which likely impacted her behavior at Elmwood.
  • A Deadly Affair: Emma's suicide can be traced back to her reputation as a "slut" though she was fairly sympathetic:
    • Dylan cheated on Sara with Emma, the beginning of the end for all three of them. At one point, Emma also slept with Tyler behind Dylan's back, an action which she immediately regretted and only escalated Brielle and Sara's harassment of her.
    • This apparently happened with Jacob and his girlfriend, Noelle, at one point. They broke up after the latter caught him cheating on her with Emma, but eventually get back together like nothing happened.
    • One of the final tipping points for Emma occurred when Dylan and Sara hooked up at a party behind her back.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Brielle convinces Sara that if they brand Emma as a slut and make her transfer schools, Dylan will be Sara's boyfriend again. Sara thinks this a great idea. It is not; Dylan tells her off while Emma is alive, and outright stops speaking to her when Emma dies and he's initially charged as being a member of the bullying gang. And when Sara talks to him one last time, he makes it clear that what she did was unforgivable and maybe she ought to think about why harassing his current girlfriend would not win brownie points.
  • Disappeared Dad: Sara's parents are divorced, and she notes how her father has all but abandoned her and her brothers in favor of his new family.
    • Also applies to Emma, since her parents are divorced and her biological father is never mentioned.
  • Downer Beginning: Emma Putnam has committed suicide, and her parents are pressing charges against the group that harassed and bullied her: Sara the Villain Protagonist, Brielle the Alpha Bitch, Kyle (one of Emma's ex-boyfriends), Jacob, (another boy Emma previously dated), and Tyler (an older boy that the underage Emma hooked up with). Dylan, Sara's own ex-boyfriend and Emma's boyfriend at the time of her suicide, is also charged for her death - although he wasn't nearly as mean to Emma as the others and stood up for her on a few occasions - but the charges against him are dropped when he agrees to testify against the others. At the start of the novel, Sara is attending summer school, making up for the classes she missed during her junior year as a result of the lawsuit, but is ostracized and ignored by her peers for what she did.
  • Driven to Suicide: As a result of the constant bullying and harassment she faced, Emma faked being sick to stay home from school and hanged herself in her parents' garage once they left for work.
    • Played with when Sara's mother confesses that, because of everything that has happened, she's terrified of Sara doing the same thing. Thankfully averted by the end of the book.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Despite everything she did, Sara still cares deeply about both her mother and her younger brothers, and feels guilty for dragging them into the mess she made.
    • Played with in Brielle's case, since despite everything that went down with Emma, she was shown to care about Sara to some extent, especially after the latter caught Dylan cheating on her with Emma at the Valentine's Day party. However, mileage may vary as to whether Brielle actually did care about Sara that much or was just using Sara as an instrument to get rid of Emma; one might note how quickly Brielle drops Sara as her BFF in favor of Noelle once it appears that her plan to get Emma to transfer schools might succeed.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Sara happily goes along with Brielle in being cruel to Emma, but when someone writes the word "SLUT" in bright red lipstick on Emma's locker, even Sara thinks it's going too far, because it's defacing school property. Brielle, on the other hand, is shown to be impressed. After Emma's suicide, Sara is upset that she and Brielle are being blamed for the locker vandalism which they did not commit.
    • Brielle enjoys smoking weed, but Sara draws the line at drinking during Wild Teen Parties.
  • Fiery Redhead: Averted with Emma, who despite her bright red hair, is shown to be very passive in response to the bullying she receives. Only at one point does she win in an altercation with Brielle and Sara, when she insinuates they are lesbians because they're so close. And she only wins because the presence of authority figures keeps Sara and Brielle from retaliating, although Brielle does threaten Emma as they drive off.
  • Foregone Conclusion: As the reader, we already know that the cruel actions of Sara, Brielle, and the others will result in Emma committing suicide and a national court case. Just knowing this fact makes reading the detailed descriptions of their behavior all the more horrifying.
  • Gilded Cage: Brielle's ultimate fate: her parents force her to get home tutoring for her remaining school years, and imply that she's no longer allowed to talk to Sara at all, even after the lawsuit ends. During the one time the two run into each other, Brielle complains to Sara that's she's bored while her parents sternly tell her to be quiet.
  • Girl Posse: Brielle is the leader of this at Elmwood, while Sara is her second-in-command. Other girls also drift in and out of the group throughout the book, with one of them, Noelle, eventually replacing Sara as Brielle's "Plus One."
  • Gone Horribly Right: Sara and Brielle's main goal in their treatment of Emma was to get her out of their school and out of their lives forever. And by god, it worked.
  • Gossipy Hens: One of Brielle and Sara's favorite pastimes is badmouthing Emma and other classmates to each other (and making sure Emma can hear it if she happens to be nearby). Averted after Sara's Character Development at the end of the book.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Part of Sara's treatment towards Emma stems from the fact that she is jealous of her. It's never explicitly said aloud, but during Sara's inner monologues, she often comments on how pretty Emma is while making disparaging remarks about her own looks.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: A large theme explored throughout the book. While Sara's actions were despicable and ultimately led to Emma's death, she was also shown to be dealing with her own problems and never meant for things to go that far. Likewise, while Emma was dealing with the horrible side effects of the bullying and harassment she received, the way she handled her relationships at times was... not perfect.
  • Heel Realization: Sara finally understands what she did when she reads an article on Emma's suicide, detailing how the latter killed herself only one month before her seventeenth birthday. Shortly afterward, her brother comes in to talk to her and is worried she'll go to jail. For his sake, she promises to take the plea deal.
  • High School: Where the majority of the story takes place.
  • High-School Dance: Occurs towards the middle of the book when Sara plans on going to one with Dylan. Averted when the principal bans her and Brielle from going due to a nasty prank they played on Emma.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: During the flashbacks, most of Sara's primary thoughts are of her boyfriend, Dylan, and trying to keep his attention solely on her. As a matter of fact, most of the conflicts among Sara's group of friends revolve around relationships and who is sleeping with who.
  • How We Got Here: The book alternates between the past and the present, detailing the events that took place before and after Emma's suicide.
  • Hypocrite: Sara's fellow classmates that either participated in or implicitly supported the harassment of Emma. After the latter kills herself, they turn her former locker into a shrine and openly condemn Sara for her actions. This likely goes hand in hand with Toxic Friend Influence, since Alpha Bitch Brielle, the girl with whom most of her classmates want to ingratiate themselves, is the instigator of most of Emma's torment. However, once Brielle leaves Elmwood for home tutoring, her hold over her classmates vanishes.
    • Beth, a girl whom Brielle and Sara don't particularly like but are civil to, dismisses Emma as a drama queen after the Valentine's Day incident as an attempt to suck up to them. However, Brielle savagely shuts her down, and after Emma's suicide, Sara sees Beth mourning at Emma's locker. It's possible Beth may actually have been the one who wrote "SLUT" in lipstick on Emma's locker in an attempt to gain Brielle and Sara's favor, even though Beth had previously been somewhat friendly with Emma.
    • Sara gets upset when Dylan calls Brielle a bitch and reprimands her brothers when they argue or use bad language, but thinks nothing of hurling insult after insult towards Emma.
  • Ironic Echo: One of Brielle's favorite ways of tormenting Emma was to hiss the word "slut" at Emma while passing her in the hall whenever Emma least expected it. When Sara returns to school for her senior year, she is the one being called a slut in the hallways, ironically by some of the girls who participated in bullying Emma.
  • It's All My Fault: Occurs with Sara at the end of the novel when she accepts that her actions directly caused Emma to kill herself.
  • Jerk Jock: While Dylan did not participate in Emma's bullying, his cheating on Sara with her was the catalyst for a number of issues throughout the novel.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: During the one time he meets with her and her lawyer, Sara's dad yells at her for what she did and tells her to take some responsibility in the fact that her actions drove a girl to commit suicide. Ironic considering how he abandoned her and the family after her parents' divorce, but he makes a good point.
  • Karma Houdini: Brielle to a minor extent, since her parents are wealthy and can afford home tutoring for her, thus allowing her to avoid the public eye completely. Also occurs with Tyler, Jacob, and Kyle since they all graduated and no longer have to face the scrutiny of other Elmwood students. Noelle, who replaces Sara as Brielle's BFF and also participated in the bullying, was also a senior at the time of the bullying and also gets away scot-free; however, she wasn't initially involved to same extent Sara was.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Brielle and Sara face no meaningful punishment for most of their early pranks on Emma. The "Fat Beyotch" Facebook page and locker-room assault completely slip under the radar, and their punishment for the Valentine's Day pranks is to be barred from attending the upcoming dance. However, this ends up being a moot point as the girls simply end up attending a private hotel-room party instead. None of this applies after Emma kills herself though; thanks to the girls stupidly putting their harassment of her online, both the police and the public have ample evidence that Brielle and Sara were the primary instigators. As a result, Brielle is confined to her house under her stern parents' eyes, and Sara faces everyone's judgment and ostracism at school. Even if Brielle has stellar grades with home tutoring, her name is going to show up in every Google search related to Emma's suicide. The same applies to Sara, whose grades weren't as good but college is going to be awkward.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The book has so many examples of this trope that it may as well be the alternate title.
  • Lack of Empathy: Throughout most of the book, Sara doesn't really feel bad that Emma killed herself and thinks that she overreacted and took the easy way out, leaving her to deal with the fallout. Her realization of just what she pushed Emma into doing is the Character Development that occurs towards the end of the novel. Up to Eleven with the legitimately sociopathic Brielle, who is never shown to feel any remorse, even on her day in court, when she reads a statement that contains all the right words but is noted by Sara to be insincere.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: For Sara, a fact which she regularly lampshades. Once The Bully, now others are bullying and ostracizing her for what she and the others did to Emma. Deconstructed, however, by showing how the hatred aimed at her helps no one - least of all Emma.
    • All of the bullies charged have lawyers, and Sara is convinced they'll be like lawyers on television and get them off. This doesn't happen; the lawyers have to gather all of the evidence against Sarah and Brielle to see if they have a defense, and are forced to reveal they don't have one: with the roses prank, the mean sign, the social media accounts, and school records, there is no defense that would work. Sara's lawyer advises that if all the kids enter a plea deal to accept guilt and probation, it will save an agonizing court case and possible jail time.
  • Last-Name Basis: Carmichael. Even after being with him in summer school all summer, Sara doesn't even realize his first name is Braden.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Originally what Sara thinks about Carmichael since he is never shown hanging out with other students, but changes once she gets to know him better.
  • Love Triangle: Between Sara, Dylan, and Emma. Sara and Dylan were a couple, until he cheated on her with Emma. The two date after that, but Dylan still hooks up with Sara at a party behind Emma's back. The triangle ultimately dissolves after Emma's commits suicide and Dylan and Sara go their separate ways.
    • Becomes a Love Dodecahedron if you consider that Emma also had relationships with Jacob, Tyler, and Kyle at different points in time.
  • Malicious Slander: The majority of Brielle and Sara's bullying and harassment towards Emma consists of this.
  • Misplaced Retribution:
    • One of the reasons Sara and Brielle started harassing Emma is because Dylan, Sara's boyfriend, was spending more time with Emma than he was with Sara, culminating when Sara witnessed the two of them kissing at a party. Rather than blame Dylan for cheating, the girls immediately brand Emma a slut and focus on trying to win Dylan back.
      • Sara also mentions that Brielle seems to have had it in for Emma for some time, since Brielle "hated Emma at first sight" and also lost a previous boyfriend of her own to Emma. Emma's "coming on to" Dylan was just the excuse Brielle needed to kick the harassment and bullying into high gear.
    • Sara learns that one of her brothers was bullied in summer camp because of what she did, which makes her feel extremely guilty.
  • Morality Pet: Sara's younger brothers, Tommy and Alex. She spends much of her time helping her single mother to look after them, which includes taking them to and from school and stopping at Taco Bell afterwards, and they are shown to be very close. She only accepts the plea deal when Tommy expresses worry that Sara might go to jail if her lawyer loses the case.
    • Dylan to some extent, since it was because of him that Sara originally tried to tone down her harassment of Emma. He mentions Emma's troubled past without going into details, but Sara's too angry to hear him out. Later on, Sara only starts to accept responsibility for her actions when he points out during their final conversation that no one wanted things to end up the way they did.
    • A better example would be Carmichael, Sara's lab partner during her summer school classes and eventual love interest. He remains mostly non-judgmental of her despite what she did, and their conversations play a part in getting Sara to realize the true extent of her actions.
    • A very minor example would be Megan, a minor character, who openly comforts Emma when Emma breaks down after one confrontation with Brielle and Sara. However, Megan is implied to have eventually deserted Emma as well, though she never goes as far as participating in the bullying and gives tearful interviews to the news media after Emma's suicide, implying that she may feel guilty for not standing up for Emma more.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: As Sara points out during her Character Development, how does one apologize for what she did? She can't take her words back, she can't undo her actions, and she can't bring Emma back to life. She realizes that she also failed Brielle as a friend, because she had several opportunities to convince Brielle they should leave Emma alone and chose not to, since the mean part of her enjoyed bullying Emma.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Sara spends most of the book blaming Emma for committing suicide and ruining her life by proxy. Her Character Development occurs when she not only comes to terms with the part she played in Emma's death, but also how she's going to move forward in the wake of her actions.
    • The other bullies, especially Brielle. Even in her court statement, she downplays her bullying towards Emma and dodges any real responsibility while offering an insincere apology to Emma's parents. The pattern continues with the other defendants - Jacob is in tears, but one can't be sure whether the tears are from Emma or for himself - and Sara notes that out of everyone, she seems to be the only one who truly regrets what she did.
  • New Media Are Evil: At least, they are when they're used for cyberbullying. Brielle and her cronies use social media as a means to constantly harass and demean Emma, including setting up a fake Facebook profile using her picture called "Fat Beyotch," a fake Twitter account with derogatory hashtags and posts, and a barrage of hateful comments on Emma's own Facebook wall.
  • New Transfer Student: Emma, which contributed to both her popularity among the boys and the bullying she received from Sara and Brielle.
  • Noodle Incident: Emma's life before transferring to Sara's school. Dylan tells Sara that Emma has had a hard time in her previous schools but doesn't elaborate, and we never learn what, if any, events in Emma's past affected her to the point where she would be Driven to Suicide.
  • Official Couple: Sara and Dylan until he cheats on her with Emma. By the end of the book, it's Sara and Carmichael.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: The case's national media attention ensures that no one will be forgetting that Brielle and Sara's friend group drove Emma to suicide. Prior to his acquittal, Dylan even loses his baseball scholarship. Sara notes that people won't care if she was really sorry, and she's forced to admit they have a point - no matter what she does, she can't truly apologize to Emma or bring her back to life.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: As the only member of the group who is eighteen, Tyler having sex with sixteen-year-old Emma technically counts as statutory rape. Therefore, his charges are a little more serious than the others.
    • At one point in the story, Brielle has a breakdown in front of Sara and reveals that the older male counselor she became close with at summer camp forced himself on her. She brushes it off afterward, but it is implied to have affected her deeply.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The story was inspired by the 2010 suicide of high school student Phoebe Prince after months of bullying and harassment at the hands of her fellow classmates. The author stated that while looking into this case and others like it, she wondered how the events played out from the perspective of the bullies and if they truly meant for things to go so far. Thus, Tease was born.
  • Really Gets Around: How Brielle and Sara view Emma after the latter dates several boys during her short time at Elmwood. However, since Sara is known to be an Unreliable Narrator, this may not be entirely accurate.
  • Redheads Are Uncool: Emma Putnam has red hair and is shown to be a social outcast at Elmwood. It's not because of her hair color, though.
  • Rich Bitch: Brielle comes from a wealthy family and is the main instigator of the harassment towards Emma. Brielle and Sara also consider Emma one, as Emma also is implied to come from a well-to-do family.
  • School Bullying Is Harmless: Considering how both the administration and the student body turned a blind eye to how Emma was being treated, this appeared to be the primary attitude throughout Elmwood. After Emma's suicide though? Definitely no longer the case.
  • Shrinking Violet: Sara before she met and became best friends with Brielle. Also part of the reason she went along with bullying Emma - she wanted to remain in Brielle's good graces.
    • Applies to Emma herself as well - for the most part, she doesn't fight back against the bullying and harassment she receives, but either cries or runs away from the situation. She does try to stand up for herself a few times but stops, apparently realizing that doing that makes everything worse.
  • Skipping School: Occurs several times throughout the novel, mostly in the wake of Emma's suicide. Sara ends up missing so much school that she has to take summer classes in order to catch up. Brielle is in the same boat, but since her parents are rich, she can afford private home tutoring.
    • It is mentioned that Carmichael also does this during the school year, hence his presence in summer school with Sara. However, he later explains he was living with his father at the time and attending a different school, and eventually came back to Elmwood because he couldn't stand living with his father.
    • The most heartbreaking example of this would be Emma. After pretending to be sick to stay home from school, she hung herself in her parents' garage.
  • Slut-Shaming: Most of the bullying towards Emma by Sara and Brielle revolve around whomever she's dating - or appears to be dating - at any given moment.
  • Smitten Teenage Girl: Sara towards Dylan, even after he cheats on her with Emma.
  • Teens Are Monsters: During the course of the novel, Sara, Brielle, and their friends commit a number of nasty deeds that culminate in Emma's suicide. This includes verbally harassing her (both in-person and online), physically harassing her, spreading rumors about her supposed promiscuity to the rest of the student body, placing a nasty sign on her front lawn for everyone to see, and creating social media accounts dedicated to bullying her, just to name a few. And it doesn't stop there. After Emma's death is announced to the school, everyone is sent home for the day, and Brielle has a group of people over her house to drink, watch the news, and laugh at Emma's expense.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Averted. Despite Sara bringing it up as a possibility for Emma, it never actually happens.
  • Teens Love Shopping: Sara and Brielle are shown going on shopping sprees together throughout the book.
  • Their First Time: While they're dating, Sara and Dylan have sex for the first time at a party hosted by Brielle. Much planning goes into it from the girls' perspective.
  • The Tease: Brielle claims that Emma is this, while Emma allegedly said the same thing about Sara. Brielle then jokes that Sara might be this as well if she doesn't eventually sleep with Dylan. Also a Title Drop.
  • The Promposal: Used as a plot point when it is mentioned that male students at Elmwood will often go to over-the-top lengths to ask a female student to the annual Valentine's Day dance. Sara and Brielle capitalize on this by creating a similar sign to put on Emma's front lawn, only to fill it with nasty insults instead.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: How the media portrays Emma after her death in contrast to the group that harassed her. However, like everything else in the book, it is much more complicated than that.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Sara by the end of the book.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Brielle. Everyone at Elmwood wanted to be liked by her, which in this case involved participating in bullying and harassing Emma. Sara eventually realizes she wouldn't have gone as far as she did if Brielle hadn't orchestrated everything and convinced her to participate, and ultimately realizes that she's been living most of her life to please Brielle. This even includes the reason she had sex with Dylan in the first place - she wanted Brielle to be nicer to her.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The story is told from the point of view of Sara, one of the bullies whose actions caused Emma to take her own life. Since she doesn't actually believe she did anything wrong until the end of the book, all the events described are balanced in her favor.
  • Villain Protagonist: Sara for most of the book, especially the portions which detail all the nasty things she and Brielle did to Emma (which included playing cruel pranks, spreading rumors, calling her names, and generally making her life a living hell). That being said, she has a few sympathetic moments, and by the end of the book, accepts responsibility for her actions.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Months after they have broken up, Sara asks Dylan if their relationship meant anything to him. His response is to ask why it matters since Emma is already dead because of her bullying.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Sara's therapist has a gentler form of this through therapy sessions, to help Sara work through her mixed feelings toward Emma, and actually feel some responsibility for her actions, while dealing with the trauma of a classmate committing suicide.
    • When Emma died, all Sara cared about was that Dylan would never speak to her again. Dylan stops talking to her, and Sara gives up on winning him back. They finally do speak months afterward, Dylan doesn't exactly read her the riot act but he's pretty curt, for understandable reasons. He had asked her repeatedly to leave Emma alone and if anything direct the anger about the cheating towards him. When Sara mentions he's lucky he's off the hook with criminal charges, Dylan points out he's not the one who created sock puppet social media accounts and left prank signs on his girlfriend's lawn. He also tells off Sara for thinking this case is only about her and that Emma's parents want to punish her; he says no one wanted this to happen, and if Sara had a conscience, she would have realized that before Emma was driven to kill herself. This starts to make Sara come to terms with her actions.
    • The public gives Brielle and Emma this when the story breaks. CNN conducts an analysis of their hate posts on social media, with a psychologist attributing it to teen aggression. Several news sources ask what could drive girls to be so hateful to someone they considered a friend. Sara's mom tells her to stop reading the news, but it doesn't work.
    • Tommy comes into her room when Sara is reading an article about Emma's death. He innocently asks she's going to jail and says he doesn't want her to be arrested. This motivates Sara to take the plea deal.
  • Wicked Stepfather: Played with. It is mentioned that Emma's military stepfather is very strict (which causes some conflict for her), but he is shown to be considered just as much a parental figure as her biological mother. After Emma's suicide, he is also just as heartbroken at losing her as her mother is.
  • Wild Teen Party: Occur several times throughout the story and usually serve as the setting for conflict between Sara and Emma.
  • With Friends Like These...: Despite anointing Sara as her Beta Bitch, Brielle isn't exactly a supportive friend - she never misses an opportunity to criticize Sara's wardrobe or taste in music. It's a telling moment when Sara realizes the real reason she had sex with Dylan was so Brielle would be nicer to her. Sara comes to realize in time that this is just who Brielle is and that her harshness is her own method of coping with her own problems.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: By the start of the novel, Sara has gotten this told to her so many times by random strangers that she actively avoids going out in public.
    • Inverted by Sara's mother, who tells Sara she's glad that it wasn't her.
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