Leotta explores an important issue facing institutions of higher learning: rape on campus. Her protagonist, Emily Shapiro, is caught in the frustrating cycle of reporting a rape to college representatives, her claim minimized by an institution more concerned with reputation and financial contributions than the safety of a vulnerable student. Like every long-established cultural stereotype, the college campus remains a bastion of protection for the accused, especially legacies with deep connections to the college. Thanks to Title IX and a growing desire to change the status quo, the once-silent voices of young women have broken through the barriers of convention: “It’s always complicated when women are victims, because the people making the laws are men.” Witness the gender imbalance in Washington, D.C.;
women represent only a minority of elected representatives and senators, the traditional “good old boys club” and the institutional patriarchy that has long defined a country where “all” are equal under the law. In The Last Good Girl, the author adds to a necessary and important dialog.
A freshman at Tower University, a prestigious Michigan college, Emily Shapiro is an innocent.
The daughter of the university president is finally ready to leave the confines of home for the excitement of campus dorm life. Emily attends her first party at the Beta Psi fraternity house (known by savvy students as “the rape factory”), where she meets the handsome and charismatic Dylan Highsmith, son of Michigan’s
lieutenant governor. Swept off her feet by Dylan (or maybe her cherry-flavored drink), Emily has no recollection of what happened after she followed Dylan up to his room. Only later does she realize she has been raped. Following protocol, Emily files a complaint against the scion of the Highsmith family only to be routed through a labyrinthine university process for dealing with such potentially explosive issues. Increasingly frustrated, Emily prepares a formal grievance, her hope for justice crushed as, once again, Dylan remains unscathed by scandal, his victim shunned by classmates.
Then Emily goes missing. Dylan is the last person to be seen with her, and pressure mounts against the university’s business-as-usual approach. A newly-formed DC task force is sent to the university to investigate the claim and locate the missing student--hopefully before any harm comes to her. Under the direction of Jack Bailey of the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, prosecutor Anna Curtis and FBI Agent Samantha Randazzo join forces, armed with subpoena power and the determination to rescue Emily. The response to their efforts is unsurprising.
Stonewalling by the university and its powerful attorneys is predictable, but when Emily’s vlog about the rape and the college’s failure to respond surfaces, the ivy-covered wall of entitlement begins to crack.
All the elements are present for a compelling contemporary tale: the female student in distress; a father more worried about his school’s reputation and fundraising than his daughter’s well-being; the arrogant frat boy, secure in his entitlement and family resources; the equally confident investigators Curtis and Randazzo; the resourceful and passionate Title IX activists; and the bravado of smirking frat boys and their Greek girlfriends. Along the way, Curtis, a native of Michigan, faces a personal dilemma and a tough decision about her future, but the plot stays on target, spotlighting the timely issue of rape on campus--and the shocking statistics behind these underreported events. The answers remain elusive, but an important conversation has begun.