Wednesday, February 03, 2010

To Be or Not To Be...a Virgin

It was a coincidence that I picked up two books back to back about teens losing their virginity, but it makes sense to talk about them together. The main characters in the two books have made very different decisions about sex, for very different reasons, and both are forced to confront those decisions when a seemingly casual encounter with a boy pulls them up short. But as interesting as their stories were, I found myself paying at least as much attention to the secondary character in each book who decides to lose his/her virginity as a result of societal pressures. More on that below. I found both books to be good reads and worth thinking and talking about, but it is the Knowles book that will stick with me longer and which I think will resonate most with its readers.

5Q 4P; Audience: S

All Ellie wants is to be loved. She wants that feeling you get when someone holds you close, kisses you, cares for you. Each time she sleeps with a boy, she thinks that's what she's going to get. But instead of feeling loved, she just feels empty and just hates herself a little more. The night she hooks up with Josh, they both have high hopes. He's tired of the guys in the locker room teasing him about being a virgin. They tell him Ellie will take care of his problem ("She's really into it!"). After a few minutes with Ellie, he's no longer a virgin. But one glimpse of the look on Ellie's face as he walks away leaves Josh feeling ashamed, not relieved or ecstatic. As for Ellie, she hopes this time it will be different, that Josh will be different. But he's not. She still feels just as empty, just as unloved. The only thing that's different is that this time Ellie gets pregnant.

Told by Ellie, Josh, and their best friends Caleb and Corinne, this is a poignant, makes-your-heart-hurt story. Nobody is a villain here. Ellie's need for love leads her to keep making poor choices. Josh is embarrassed and ashamed when he realizes too late that Ellie wanted and needed something from him that he was not prepared to give. He's shocked and confused when he learns she's pregnant and totally at a loss about how to handle the situation. Corinne tells her side of the story as a loyal friend who is sometimes frustrated by Ellie but who will always stand by her. Caleb's story is the pain of having to watch someone he loves hurt so much, unable to tell her how he feels.
There were so many things to like and admire about this book. The three-dimensional characters and their actions and reactions ring true, Ellie and Josh in particular. I really appreciated that Josh was portrayed as someone in as much pain and confusion as Ellie, rather than as callous or callow. I loved Caleb's mother, both as a character and for being there for Ellie when her own parents aren't. I loved the warmth of those scenes contrasted with the emptiness of so many of the others. And I loved that there are no easy choices here and that Knowles didn't tie everything up in a perfect little bow at the end. There's so much more to say about this book, although I've already said too much.

GIVING UP THE V by Serena Robar

3Q 4P: Audience: S

Spencer Davis's mother's idea of a perfect 16th birthday present for her daughters is a trip to the gynecologist for their first exam and a prescription for birth control pills. It is not Spencer's ideal gift. She's mortified, though her friends (guys and girls) all think it's terrific. They all expect Spencer to take full advantage of the situation. But Spencer has no interest in losing her virginity right now. For one thing, other things are a lot more important to her. For another, there's nobody she's even remotely got her eye on, and she wants her first time to be with someone who is special, so that it means something to both of them. In contrast, her best friend Alyssa just wants to get it over with. She's even made a list of guys she's willing to give it up to. Complications arise when Benjamin enrolls in their school. Suddenly Spencer isn't so sure that she has no time for boys and serious dating (and perhaps more). She's thrilled every time he talks to her, and her body tingles every time he touches her. Now she gets what this whole sex thing is all about, and having those birth control pills in hand is looking like a very sensible present after all. The trouble is, Alyssa just moved Benjamin to the top of her lose-it-to-him list, and she's doing everything in her power to make sure Ben knows it. Should Spencer pretend not to like the boy she can't stop thinking about so her best friend can have him? (Or, rather, he can have her.) Or should she go after him herself to see if she's ready to give up the v after all?

This book is a fairly intelligent look at teens who are trying to decide what is right for them in terms of their sexuality. It's fair to say that while I recognize that Alyssa is representative of many young girls, I had a hard time sympathizing with her goal.
I think it's a shame that there's so much emphasis on sex in our culture that some teenagers "give up the V" because they don't want to deal with the pressure. What I appreciated about Spencer was that she wouldn't allow herself to be coerced into something she wasn't ready for just because her friends and/or society were telling her she should be. It's not surprising that I, as an adult, feel that way. I wonder which of the two girls most readers will empathize with.

These two are on either end of the spectrum. Also represented are Spencer's friends, most of whom are happily and vociferously sexually active, either as part of a (frequently battling) couple or playing the field.
Though the energy level in the book goes up a notch or two whenever they are on the page, they're stock characters and a bit overdrawn. I found myself wondering on more than one occasion how Spencer fit in with this group. I had the feeling that this was a group that may have been close friends at one time, but would more likely have grown apart over the years. It has only just occurred to me that they're in the book primarily to represent that full spectrum. They are also quite raunchy and randy, making for one more reason this book is recommended for older teens.

I found the ending to be predictable, but I think readers will appreciate it, regardless.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm...I'd heard of "Giving up the V" before, but wasn't sure how it really read. I think I may add it to our order list now. I have a few teen girls that I'm sure will snatch it right up!


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