Sunday Reflections: Thinking about boys, sex, and violence while reading SEX & VIOLENCE by Carrie Mesrobian
I have never really reviewed S&V, in part because by the time I read it it was already receiving tons of awards and accolades so, you know, the word was out that this was a good book. So I’m not going to really review it, but I am going to talk to you about my emotional journey while reading it.
I began reading this book one afternoon and my Tween walked into the room and saw the title, “Really mom?” She was aghast at the title, but she had also just turned eleven and sex is a squirmy word for her. But I think people have such a knee jerk reaction to the title. This book is so much deeper, so much MORE than the title.
Don’t get me wrong, in the first 25 pages of this book there is both sex and violence. And then there is the rest of the book, which is a painful look at a young man trying to put the pieces of his life back together after it all happens. It is about being a broken person in a broken world and trying to put yourself back together again. It’s about change and healing. It is about trying to overcome the things that happen to us, and about how those things change how we move about through our world – and not always in positive ways.
Evan is a boy who has grown up in a world that teaches young men that being a player makes him THE MAN. Women are disposable and sex is the goal. Plus, he moves a lot so making emotional attachments would be catastrophic because he would have to deal with the pain of leaving all the time. I completely understood this because I went to 9 different schools in the 13 years from K-12. That’s a lot of starting over again and there is a point where you think, I’m just going to guard my heart. And it is so much easier to do today in a culture that makes depth and attachment so much harder to achieve as we pretend we have “friends” and a social life through social media that can make real attachment and connection and accountability so much harder to cultivate. I see the kids in my life playing at relationships instead of really making them; not all of them of course, but today’s world makes pretending so much easier that we can forget to actually live and love. By being “connected”, we sometimes fail to actually connect with the people whose paths we cross every day.
When Evan is beat up, he is messed up bad. I mean, they have to remove his ruptured spleen. But even though he is physically wounded, his psyche is wounded far worse. To put it in perspective, Evan is beat up in the shower and he spends most of the rest of the book refusing to shower because it is now a trigger for him, and he doesn’t feel safe there. The transformation from when we first meet Evan to how this incident affects him is truly heartbreaking. And for me, it is a demonstration of how easy it is for us to totally annihilate one another; and how what we see on the outside is nothing compared to what can be happening on the inside. Our bodies heal much easier than our minds and our spirits. This is why we must stand up against things like bullying, sexual violence, and the things that damage the self esteem of our youth. Broken kids become broken adults a lot of times, and all that brokenness can create a very broken future.
Evan also struggles with tremendous guilt because he was not the only victim. And here he must wrestle with his thoughts and feelings about girls – and yes, about sex.
It’s easy to be so easily dismissive of a book based on a title, but I was blown away by the deep and emotional healing journey that Evan takes, the parts that various support people play in it, and the subtle yet thoughtful examination of sex and violence in our world. Because we have to admit, there IS a lot of sex and violence in today’s culture. Even if we think we are doing a good job of keeping our kids innocent, we aren’t. They talk to one another. They show each other pictures on their phones. And they see what is happening around them. But Sex & Violence, it allows them to take a moment to think about our culture through this one boy’s story.
You could argue that I have no idea what it’s like to be a man and you would be absolutely right. But I absolutely care because there are a lot of men in my life that I love. And even though I don’t have boys of my own, I have these two little girls and I want us to think about how we raise and treat our boys just as much as I want us to do that for our girls because I want them to have a life full of good men that love them in healthy and varied ways throughout their lifetime, from friends to boyfriends. Which is why we need books. This book, along with other books like WINGER and GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith, like WISE YOUNG FOOLS by Sean Beaudoin, and like SEPTEMBER GIRLS by Bennett Madison tell good stories, but they also can give us pause to reflect on what we are teaching our boys about what it means to be a man and how they relate to the opposite sex, whether romantically or not. This is also why we need boys to read books with female protagonists, but that’s another post (although it is addressed really well in this must read).
When I think of this book, I can’t help but compare it to things like STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES and WHALETALK by Chris Crutcher. Or A. S. King. Which is like a painter comparing an artist to Picasso or Monet. It is high praise indeed.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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