Estelle: Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger [ website | twitter ]
Publication Date: September 5, 2011
Publisher: Poppy
Pages: 288
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format read: Purchased on my Nook
Why I read it: Seemed like a sexy, quick read.

Summary: Lissa is fed up with her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, and his inability to forget about the rivalry between the football and soccer teams that has ruled the school for way too long. So Lissa decides to take matters into her own hands and organizes the annoyed girlfriends of both teams in hopes to withhold any form of fooling around until this rivalry is done with once and for all. But Lissa has a few secrets of her own – one of which has to do with a soccer player, Cash, who is just about everywhere she turns these days…

Kody Keplinger can write tension like a champ.

And she has to with a subject like this. I can’t say I relate to a sex strike so much. Especially one in high school. Because my circle of friends and I just never talked about it like this crowd did. But hey, I’m open-minded. I actually read Shut Out in less than a few hours. It’s a fast-paced, addicting, and yet a light read.

Lissa, as a main character, is an interesting one. She’s sort of like this shy mother hen type. Her own mother died in a car accident that permanently disabled her father. She has an older brother she continues to keep tabs on. It actually gets pretty annoying. And coming from me, a person who likes to be in control and know what’s going on, that’s saying something. It might have actually been a bit over the top for me. The part of her personality that I felt was very realistic was the trouble she had trusting and opening up with people, and being uncomfortable with her own sexuality.

If anything that is what I enjoyed most about this book. Keplinger did a nice job of focusing on many different kinds of high school girls  — the “slut”, the virgin, the secret virgin, etc. And because of Lissa’s idea of the sex strike, this unexpected female society came together and it made for some really nice scenes for me. Connecting, butting heads, and even reconnecting over this one conflict in the school and during the course of it, becoming friends.

On a deeper level, it’s about acknowledging the kind of pressure that girls deal with in high school. Like, why should a girl who is confident in herself and enjoys sex be known as a slut? Why do people feel so quick to judge the other girl who has made a pledge to remain a virgin? All of these are relevant and integral questions and ones that are tackled time and time again throughout Shut Out. This no-sex pact actually teaches everyone a lot more about themselves than they ever thought possible.

Now let’s talk about Cash for one second. Because, um, if I ever wanted to have some make out time in a library, he would be my prime candidate. He’s hot; he’s sweet; he reads. I mean, that’s the recipe for a great leading guy. Not to mention, he and Lissa have some undeniably crazy chemistry from the first minute he enters the story. I didn’t have the same reaction to Randy though. I actually wasn’t sure what Lissa saw in him except for the fact that he was good to her family and they liked to have him around. I wasn’t surprised by many of his actions but I was certainly disgusted by a few.

So if you are out to read something a little racy, a little speedy but surprisingly thought-provoking, move Shut Out to the top of your list.

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Review/Discussion: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

book cover for Uses for Boys

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Publication Date
: January 15, 2013
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Pages: 240
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: sexual relationships, parent relationship examples, effects of neglect
Format read: ARC downloaded from NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Anna’s mom has set a poor example for her by continuously hopping from one relationship or marriage to the next; frequently left alone, Anna begins to turn to boys to keep her company.

After some very in-depth discussions with Estelle and Ginger about Uses for Boys, I’ve decided I needed to pose my questions to you guys and make this more of a discussion post instead of a review. That being said, there will be some spoilers included below, so be cautious of this if you decide to read beyond this point.

Anna’s mom had her when she was very young and her father doesn’t stick around. When Anna is very young, her mother begins an endless cycle of leaving her daughter alone to go out which further progresses into longer periods away and countless marriages and divorces. When Anna is a young (innocent) teenager, she’s targeted by a boy on the school bus who decides it would be okay to touch her boob and use her to masturbate while two boys look on. (Yes, eww.) Immediately, Anna’s reputation is scarred and she seems to fall into her mother’s footsteps. She loses her virginity at fourteen and brings her boyfriend home from school every day where they explore their sexuality without her mother knowing any of this.

While much (MUCH) of the book includes very explicit sex, that’s not what Uses for Boys was about to me. I couldn’t stop asking myself these two questions:

Do we automatically follow in our parent’s footsteps?
Or is Uses for Boys saying that we don’t have to?

Anna had a choice from the moment she was on the bus to make very different decisions than she did. WHY didn’t she say no to this hormonally deranged boy? WHY did she all of a sudden think this boy touching her was okay? (There had been no previous thoughts or mentions of sex before this scene. Her mother didn’t bring men home with her – she kept her relationships very distanced from Anna aside from when she got married.) WHY did this sexual molestation on the bus lead to every other bad decision Anna made?

I suppose, to me, it was so blatant that Anna’s mother telling her “their story” (about her young pregnancy and having a daughter to cure her lonesomeness) morphed into Anna’s own story. Anna was trying to find her way without any guidance, with her mother’s story as her only example. Seeing step-fathers constantly come and go does psychologically alter how we view our own relationships and what we expect of them. The boys Anna sleeps with and the sex she has is a result of her mother’s example for her. But why did Anna choose that for herself? Why didn’t her loneliness lead to strong friendships instead of a detrimental drop-out-of-school-for-a-boy-at-sixteen relationship?

My biggest misunderstanding was in that the blame seemed to be placed more on the boys and less on Anna making poor decisions and her mother’s inability to lovingly care for her daughter. Yes, that situation on the bus should never have taken place and maybe the domino effect wouldn’t have cascaded from there, but as I previously mentioned, Anna wasn’t over-sexualized before that situation. Because of that boy, Anna’s life begins to take a downward spiral into drugs, alcohol, and sex. In the end, I was very much hoping that Anna’s sad story would have a happy ending. While things do begin to look brighter for her, I again felt a little distraught that it was a guy who led her to see there was a better life to be had. I was hoping that by the end, Anna would have a huge revelation and she would evolve without needing to rely on boys.

For some, Scheidt’s writing style has been a turn-off, though I found it to be quite unique. It worked well as a tool for understanding Anna. The writing is very stream of consciousness and less structured, demonstrating how much of Anna’s life is spent alone without anyone there to direct her through life.

As you can tell, Uses for Boys definitely made me put on my analytical thinking cap, turning this into much more of a discussion post. Have you read this book? How do you respond to the many questions it posed for me?

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Sweet Summertime Reads: A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger

Hey-a! It’s Magan with another summer beach read, A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger for our joint feature, Sweet Summertime Reads, hosted with Ginger and Tara!

A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger [website | twitter]
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Poppy
Pages: 304
Keywords: Re-marriages, Step-siblings, Family Drama, Drinking and Hook-ups
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format Read: Paperback from TLA (Thank you!)

When I read The DUFF by Kody Keplinger, I identified. I felt connected to the main character and really felt like I could tap into her emotions as she navigated her way through her life’s troubles. I thought I would feel much the same with Kody’s new book A Midsummer’s Nightmare, but I didn’t. I enjoyed the writing and the craziness of trying to figure out if Whitley would get together with her soon-to-be-stepbrother, Nathan, but overall I could not relate to Whitley in the way I expected to.

Whitley’s parents have been divorced for a long time. She lives with her bitter, self-absorbed mother, but she’s always wanted to live with her father. Since that’s not the case, she spends every summer with him. When she graduates, she is looking forward to her last summer with her dad before college – listening to good music, hanging out in the condo and at the beach, and drinking. That all changes when her dad pulls up to a new house where she’s introduced to the woman her dad is going to marry. The woman, Sylvia, is someone she’s never heard of or met before.

To make everything worse, Sylvia’s son, Nathan, is the boy Whitley randomly slept with at the graduation party she attended. How’s that for awkward?

There is a lot that happens in this story – Whitley deals with her issues by randomly hooking up with guys and drinking to extremes. She can’t talk to her parents – her mom is too focused on her own broken heart to see her daughter is struggling, and her dad is trying so desperately hard to make life appear perfect with his new family. Oh, and then there’s all the tension with Nathan. Should they just give into their feelings for one another even though they’re going to be step-siblings?

I felt at times that while the writing was good and Keplinger could tap into the emotions of an 18-year-old really well, it was lacking in some depth. There was a lot of build up and anticipation, but very few pages were dedicated to the story settling and all the aforementioned issues wrapping up. I don’t need for everything to wrap up in perfect little bows – my imagination can wander – but with so many big things, I just wanted more. Whitley’s feelings of invisibility didn’t really come full circle for me.

While I didn’t feel extremely connected to Whitley because of how she wanted to ruin herself to make her family notice her, I did enjoy Sylvia and Nathan’s characters very much. Sylvia was the antithesis of a terrible step-mother. She saw the destruction happening in Whitley’s life and wanted to step in. It was hard for her to navigate the boundary between caring for Whitley but not getting too overly involved. Though it is a little awkward that they were going to be step-siblings, I appreciated Nathan’s character. He was not one to hold back how he felt. While he had his moments of being a little too honest and come across as hurtful, I always felt his intentions were for the best.

I suppose my last observation is that I always knew what was coming next in A Midsummer’s Nightmare. I felt the overall plot points were fairly similar to The DUFF, and I sincerely hope that Keplinger’s books don’t become formulaic. Estelle went to a signing a few weeks ago in New York and told me about the new book Keplinger is working on. This one pertains to a very big issue, suicide, and I think Keplinger has the ability to really push the boundaries and go deep. I hope she does.

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photograph of zac efron laying on blue plastic chairs

My Nathan = Zac Efron. Who wouldn't want your step-brother to be a cute, hot guy, especially if envisioned to look like SEXY Zac Efron?!

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