Sloppy Firsts

cover image for Sloppy FirstsMcCafferty, Megan. (2001) Sloppy Firsts. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Plot Summary:

With her best friend Hope by her side, Jessica “Not-so” Darling can brave anything – even high school.  But when tragedy prompts Hope’s parents to move out of state, Jessica is left alone with friends she doesn’t really like, a sister who cares only about her upcoming wedding, a mother who wishes she was more like her sister, and a father who treats her like the son he had – and lost.  To make matters worse, she suddenly finds herself entangled with the boy that Hope’s parents blame for their son’s death.  Can Hope and Jessica’s friendship survive the distance and secrets?

Critical Evaluation:

Sloppy Firsts did not drive me quite as crazy as The Perks of Being a Wallflower did, largely owing to the better quality of writing and Jessica’s presence in her own life, but I had similar issues with it.  Why do we never see Hope’s letters back to Jessica? Or see Jessica mention them more than just a handful of times?  Jessica is at least more self-aware than Charlie was (to be fair, she is also older) and tries to take charge more often (although often in very passive aggressive ways) but she still lacks personality for much of the book (sarcasm is not a substitute for substance).  The story improved as it went on, but it feels like it could have been a bit shorter and still as interesting.

Reader’s Annotation:

Can Hope and Jessica’s friendship survive tragedy, distance, and secret boyfriends?

Author Information:

http://www.meganmccafferty.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Megan-McCafferty/53129595664

@meganmccafferty

Genre:

Sex and Sexuality

Booktalking Ideas:

(bang my head against a wall that I have to booktalk this book?)

Since it’s not a good idea to booktalk books you don’t like or connect to, I would probably focus on the part I did like and connect to the most, which was Jessica’s use of running at night to find peace and her relationship with her parents, especially her father and how he communicated by focusing on her running.  I would likely start by asking teens to imagine sneaking out to run like she did.  I would then include enough of the rest of the plot so that potential readers don’t get the wrong impression about the book’s focus.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/15-24

Potential Controversy:

I’m not sure there is anything in this book that wouldn’t be controversial to someone, which is a large part of why it is often shelved with the adult fiction even though it will interest many teen readers.  Unfortunately, it may also be difficult to defend it’s placement in a teen collection, rather than adult collection, because of that precedent.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

This is one of many crossover books that I have heard a lot of buzz about, but had never read.

Advertisements

Forever

cover image for ForeverBlume, Judy (1975) Forever.  New York, NY: Antheneum

Plot Summary:

Girl meets boy.  Boy and girl fall in love.  Girl goes to Planned Parenthood.  Girl and boy have sex.  Girl and boy are separated.  Girl falls in love with new boy.  Girl breaks up with old boy.  Boy is sad, but moves on.  Girl is sad, but happy with new boy.  At no point during the story does the girl get pregnant, catch a disease, or die.

Critical Evaluation:

This is perhaps the least inviting plot summary I have ever written, but to be perfectly honest Forever was one of the least interesting teen books I have ever read.  It is possible that at one point in time Katherine and Michael both felt real and modern, but that time is no longer.  Most of the prose is the opposite of compelling (“On Friday, right after school, I washed my hair.  I couldn’t eat any dinner.  My parents gave me a couple of funny looks…”) and what little personality comes through feels dated and forced. Without any emotional attachment or investment in either character, their romance and break-up failed to move me in any way.

I applaud Blume for her intentions and what she accomplished by writing a story about teens having responsible sex and not getting punished for it by fate or society.  Yet, as sad as it is that such a story was and still is groundbreaking, and as much as I would include it in a young adult collection, I must admit I would have a hard time recommending this novel to any teens.  It reads like a lecture; the fact that it is one I agree with does not by itself make it a pleasurable or worthwhile read.

Reader’s Annotation:

Katherine and Michael are in love, that part they know.  Now the question is: should they or shouldn’t they?

Booktalking Ideas:

I would never book talk this title if I could help it.  But if I absolutely had to, I would focus on the parts that make it revolutionary – the fact that the teens in the story decide to have sex and survive doing so.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/14 -19

Potential Controversy:

[Pardon me a moment while I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.]

Sadly, even unmarried adult women admitting to having sex is so controversial that public figures have no problem labeling law students “sluts” for speaking about birth control.  So, needless to say, a book about an unmarried teen girl deciding to have sex? And going to Planned Parenthood?  And not being punished for it?  And then being the dumper not the dumpee?  Yeah. This is the kind of title that has always been frequently challenged and sadly will continue to be challenged for quite some time.  While its age and the popularity and respectability of its author cushions it from some criticism, they are by no means an impenetrable armor.

The one positive thing about the dry tone of the book is that is hampers its popularity and therefore also how much of a priority people make to challenge it.  It also assists in combating accusations of luridness or obscenity.  (Which, to be fair, was likely part of the reason it was written they way that it was.)  When a challenge does come up, the best thing would be to focus on the fact that the teens in the story have responsible sex, that it is the right of individual parents to help their own children make reading choices, and that many parents and health professionals believe that it is extremely appropriate and useful for older teens to be reading stories about other teens sexual choices and exploring such ideas theoretically before making real life decisions about their own lives.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I have a bad habit of getting into arguments about Twilight.  (You know what it’s like when people are wrong on the internet.)  A lot of times people in these discussions say things like “kids should be reading Forever instead!”  Now that I have read it, my answer will be: NO.  Teens deserve books that have plots like Forever’s and yet are interesting reads and address desire like Twilight.  Until we have more (any?) books like that, I’m not going to judge any teen for reading either.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

cover image for The Perks of Being a WallflowerChbosky, Stephen.  (1999) The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  New York, NY: Gallery Books.

Plot Summary:

Charlie’s letters begin a few short months after one of his friends was found dead of suicide and the night before he begins his freshman year in high school.   Charlie survives high school, but mostly by floating along – he is hesitant to participate in his own life.  Will he ever learn to jump in and enjoy what life has to offer?

Critical Evaluation:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those novels that you either love or you hate – and I certainly didn’t love it.  I found it annoying that we never learned who the letters were addressed to (not because I hate unanswered questions, but because the letters felt like merely a convenient conceit and that lack of information did not help), and the juvenile writing style was like an itch that wouldn’t go away (I kept looking for reasons why his teacher thought he was insightful or talented and writing – and coming up short).  Charlie’s passivity did not frustrate me, but the detachment to his own life that seemed to accompany it certainly did.  Yet, this is a cult classic and well loved by many and so I would certainly still include it in any young adult collection; I am glad it speaks to many readers, I just wish I knew why.

Reader’s Annotation:

Charlie is content to watch his own life unfold from the sidelines – for now.  But what will happen when he begins to fall in love and make friends despite himself?

Author Information:

[no personal website]

Genre:

sex and sexuality

Booktalking Ideas:

If I absolutely had to booktalk this I would probably find quotes from people that do love it and mix that up with some basic plot info.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-24

Possible Controversy:

There’s sex, drugs, suicide…and that’s just the start.  While I think all this is perfectly fine, many will not and will challenge it.  There is a reason why many libraries and bookstores – despite MTV being involved in the publication – choose to shelf it among adult fiction.  In this particular case I think that’s a fine idea simply because the kids that are most likely to enjoy it are more likely to pick up a book that says it’s for adults rather than teens.  It still should be included in displays and suggested reading lists for high school students however, and may need to be defended in those instances.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I’ve been curious about this title ever since several of my fellow booksellers at Barnes and Noble raved about it.  I was hoping to learn what the fuss was about.  Alas, I did not.