Josie’s a smart girl. She knows the score—how some senior boys try to “get some” off of “freshmeat” girls, how some freshmen girls measure their worth by whether or they have a upperclassman boyfriend. But Josie’s not like that. Neither is Nicollete or Aviva. So how is it that they all end up dating the same hot shot senior and falling for his sweet line of bullsh*t? After Josie learns the hard way just how bad this boy is, she jots down a warning about him to other girls on the back pages of the school library’s copy of Forever, and word begins to get around. Soon, other girls are adding their stories to her warning, and Josie, Nic, and Viv find that they are not alone—this boy’s been busy! Can some good actually come from getting your heart broken by a bad boy? 3 smart girls + 1 slick senior boy = 1 sharply observed novel about sex, sisterhood, and self-knowledge.
Considered the first young adult novel to discuss teenage sexuality in a way that didn’t “punish” the characters for having sex (nobody gets pregnant or sick from STDs) Forever is the story of Katherine and Michael, two teens who fall in love and embark on a sexual relationship together. For Katherine, it’s her first time, and she spends a lot of novel deciding if sex is right for her at this point in her life. She asks her friends, subtly brings it up to her parents, and researches birth control methods. After looking at all the factors, Katherine and Michael decide bring sex into their tender, romantic, and often funny relationship. Forever was written in 1975, but because Judy Blume deals so realistically with the issue of teen sexuality, it never seems to age. The author has added a forward to the latest re-printings of the book where she discusses the danger of HIV and AIDS, a serious problem that Katherine and Michael didn’t have to worry about in 1975. I’ll say no more except that some of the adults in your life who were teens in the 80’s may have a story about passing Forever around at school and giggling over the part about “Ralph.” After reading Forever, you’ll never be able to hear that name without chuckling, just a little, too!
Fifteen year old Finn has gone against all the rules and her own common sense falling for hunkie high school dropout Seth. Seth is four years older than Finn and experienced–way more experienced than Finn, who’s still a virgin and plans to stay that way. Her parents and her best friend are against the odd couple, making Finn want to be with Seth even more. Matters are complicated by the fact that her parents aren’t speaking to her older sister who is “living in sin” with her boyfriend, and that Finn seems to be the last virgin on earth–or at least at school. But when Seth starts to pressure Finn to have sex, she begins to wonder if her friends and family were right–that all older guys care about is scoring in the sexual sense. Then Finn begins to wonder why sex has to mean intercourse, and she and Seth begin the monumental task of defining what sex means to them. A mature, thoughtful book that that suggests just because teens think they’re ready for sex doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready for intercourse. Look for this one at your local library or used bookstore–it’s been out of print for awhile and not likely to be found at the nearest Barnes and Noble.
In this about-face to Hatchet, Gary Paulsen has penned a steamy, seamy autobiographical fiction about a boy learning to be a man as he works his way through his sixteenth summer. The tortured protagonist runs away from his drunken mother, does a short stint as a sugar beet migrant worker, and ends up working in a traveling carnival where he partners up with the chicken-head-biting-geek-guy. It’s while putting in time at the carnival that he meets older woman Ruby, a hard but pretty stripper who seduces him in her trailer. Full of first times of every kind, what makes The Beet Fields more than just a sensationalized look at the underbelly of a runaway teen’s life is Paulsen’s luminous writing–and the fact that you get the distinct feeling that this has all happened to the author himself. But be warned folks–this is no Hatchet. Teens with weak stomachs or squeamish natures should stay with Brian in the Canadian wilderness.
Cart leaves no stone of teenage sexuality unturned in this remarkable collection of short stories about, well, love and sex. There’s great stuff here about virginity, infatuation, first times, obsession, abstinence, sexual identity and transgender issues by such YA writer-greats like Joan Bauer, Laurie Halse Anderson, Chris Lynch and Shelley Stoehr. (Special aside to Shelley Stoehr: Hell-o, Shelley, where you been? Fab story, but when’s that next novel coming out?) I especially loved Irish import Emma Donoghue’s story, “The Welcome” about a young lesbian who falls for a girl who’s not quite “himself.” Plus, the cool purple and silver cover art of teens at a rave will wow you before you even get to the first page. An excellent effort all around–just read it all before lending it to friends, because I guarantee you probably won’t see it again until its been passed around to everyone and their brother, and their brother’s cousin Marcus who lives in New Jersey!
The last thing Leni needs to worry about is how to make her first time with college boyfriend Blake romantic. After all, she’s got prom to plan, the senior show to host, and her little brother to keep quiet. Oh, did I mention her parents were out of town? And that she asked Blake to stay with her on the sly? And that it’s almost senior prom night, and as “Kewpie” (her high school’s equivalent to head cheerleader, mascot and homecoming queen all rolled into one) she has to plan out ALL the senior activities and host most of them? Leni’s in over her head, with both her social and sex life. It’s only when push literally comes to shove that she realizes what’s important, and what can be kicked to the curb–namely, useless boy-toy Blake. Leni wises up in a hundred humorous and realistic ways as she attempts to make it through all of those bittersweet first and last times of senior year. Another oldie but a goodie that’s out of print, you’ll have to hunt for Senior Insanity at the library or a used bookshop.
Liza’s first love was Annie. But it ended all too soon. Now away at college, safe from the harsh critics and gossiping tongues that tore them apart, Liza looks back on her first romance. She and Annie were so naive that they didn’t even know what to call their relationship. Were they…lesbians? What did that word mean, exactly? And how could you label something so wonderfully right with a name they had learned was shameful? With dreamy prose, Garden sensitively chronicles the first awakenings of sexual awareness and identity between two young women. A beautiful love story that, gay or straight, you will hold in your heart long after the last page is turned.
Caitlin has finally gotten out from under her older sister’s shadow. So why does she still feel so alone? Ever since her older sib ran off with her b-friend instead of fulfilling their parents’ dream of college, Caitlin has felt at loose ends with her family. And she still can’t get her mom’s attention, even after she wins a coveted spot on the cheerleading squad. Mom and Pop just can’t stop obsessing over lost sis, and Caitlin’s sick of it. So she hooks up with local hottie and resident bad boy Rogerson. Rogerson introduces Caitlin to a whole new world of drugs, sex and rock-n-roll. Everything is great…until he starts hitting her. How will Caitlin escape from this smoke and sex laden dreamland of abuse? Lesson #1, first-timers: love and fists don’t go together. If your first time love is turning hateful, get out and don’t look back. Hands are meant for holding, not hitting. Just ask Caitlin.