Book Review: Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian sex&violence

Published: October 1st 2013 by Carolrhoda LAB

Source: ARC from publisher

Synopsis: AT FIRST YOU DON’T SEE THE CONNECTION.

Sex has always come without consequences for seventeen-year-old Evan Carter. He has a strategy–knows the profile of The Girl Who Would Say Yes. In each new town, each new school, he can count on plenty of action before he and his father move again. Getting down is never a problem. Until he hooks up with the wrong girl and finds himself in the wrong place at very much the wrong time.

AND THEN YOU CAN’T SEE ANYTHING ELSE.

After an assault that leaves Evan bleeding and broken, his father takes him to the family cabin in rural Pearl Lake, Minnesota, so Evan’s body can heal. But what about his mind?

HOW DO YOU GO ON, WHEN YOU CAN’T THINK OF ONE WITHOUT THE OTHER?

Nothing seems natural to Evan anymore. Nothing seems safe. The fear–and the guilt–are inescapable. He can’t sort out how he feels about anyone, least of all himself. Evan’s really never known another person well, and Pearl Lake is the kind of place where people know everything about each other–where there might be other reasons to talk to a girl. It’s annoying as hell. It might also be Evan’s best shot to untangle sex and violence.

My thoughts:

The synopsis does a good job of setting up this novel: “at first you don’t see the connection, and then you can’t see anything else.”

Sex & Violence is quite a different book than the first impression one might have based on the bold title. It’s certainly about both and the consequences of each and the relationship between them, but there’s little of either on the page. Rather than a flashy tale pushing the limit on what content is appropriate to include in a young adult book, it’s a fascinating character study of Evan, a teenage boy who likes hooking up and pursuing girls in a predatory and calculating way without any emotional attachment and without consequences…until he hooks up with the wrong girl and the consequences become very real.

Through a summer spent not showering, going to therapy, exploring an island, discovering the skeletons in his family’s closet, and hanging out with the kids that live around the lake, Evan starts to see sex—and relationships—in a different way. He’s not completely redeemed and while he heals, he still bears scars from his experiences. But slowly, he learns to open up to others and connect with people.

The effects of sexual assault and abuse and dating violence has been widely explored in young adult fiction, to varying degrees of effectiveness (I have a roundup of YA titles that touch on these issues here).  While Evan isn’t a victim of sexual assault, his sexual activity is what leads directly to his beating, so in many ways, his worldview is shifted as a result of the incident in much the same way as a rape survivor might experience. Sex and violence are now inextricably connected for him.

The romance in the book felt authentic and real in a way that most teen novels don’t. While so many novels end with a happily-ever-after for the couple, Evan’s relationship with Baker, a girl he finds attractive who challenges him in a way the girls he typically pursues does not, ends the way so many real life teen romances do, which is to say, it ends, and both parties move on while still acknowledging the impact they had on each other. Unsurprising, this was just the kind of story editor Andrew Karre was looking for when he picked up Mesrobian’s debut novel. “The book was acquired after Karre issued a call on his blog, in search of a manuscript about a romance that did not tend towards an eventual marriage.Sex & Violence looks at sex and relationships in a completely different way than most young adult novels, which is refreshing.

While I did find the plot to be a bit meandering and the ending a bit abrupt, this was still a compelling read and a book that I’m still thinking about months after reading it. What sets this book apart from others is the voice. Evan’s thoughts are at times uncomfortable but are always true, and despite the heavy subject matter, his narration is often funny.

There’s a lot to unpack in this novel, and it’d be great for a book club discussion (I added it to my list for possible teen book club picks). I’d recommend it to fans of another Carolrhoda LAB title I adored, The Sin-Eater’s Confession (review here), which features another authentic teen male voice.

Second opinions:

Publisher’s Weekly: “By focusing on Evan, Mesrobian talks about hookup culture in a way that is character-based, not agenda-driven, and showcases a teenager who grows and changes without becoming unrecognizable or saintly.”

Kelly @ STACKED: “Sex & Violence is one to hand off to your fans of contemporary YA books that tackle messy subjects without fear. Evan has a great voice, and the writing — despite tackling a wealth of really hefty subjects — is at times really funny.”

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On Friday, Carrie Mesrobian will be stopping by the blog to share a post for Feminist Fridays, so be sure and stop back for that!

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