Talking About Those Girls: A Guest Post by Kelly Brocklehurst (#SVYALit)
When I decided to read Those Girls, I wasn’t expecting a novel that would have a heavy focus on sex and alcohol, but even though the story is about friendships, relationships, and figuring out who you are, drinking and having sex played a large role in those themes. I was surprised by this, but I was more surprised that I haven’t seen more people talking about this book, because by the time I finished it, all I could think was that it’s an important book.
According to Pandora’s Project, “If someone is impaired due to alcohol or drugs, that person is deemed incapable of consenting and sex with that person is rape (even if the impaired person says “yes”).”
This is exactly what happens in Those Girls, time and time again. Mollie is insecure, particularly in her relationship with her boyfriend, Sam, and she uses sex as leverage to gain the power she wants to have in their relationship. When drunk, she participates in group sex with Sam and Veronica, which is Sam’s idea. Veronica and Sam are also drunk, and while Mollie at one point wonders what exactly Sam is asking her to do, Veronica initially doesn’t want to participate, because she’s in a relationship, but ends up going along with it because Sam convinces her that it’s just “silly drunkenness between friends” (p. 163) and that it’s just a “rowdy group activity, not, like actual sex, which is between two people” (p. 163). Mollie sees the situation as nothing more than a sacrifice she’s making for Sam because she loves him.
When sober, Mollie consents to sex with Sam, but doesn’t tell him when he’s being too violent, mentioning that Sam doesn’t recognize the difference between moans of pain and moans of pleasure. She also does things that she doesn’t really want to do, such as performing oral sex on Sam while he’s driving. Even though she considers it to be almost unbearable, because Sam is sweaty from basketball practice, and even though she reassures herself that she can stop if she wants to, she continues, because she’s hoping it will make Sam truly appreciate and love her.
In either instance, Mollie’s insecurity is what drives her to make decisions that lead to sexual violence, whether she’s sober or drunk. She and Sam both use sex as means of power to gain what they want from their relationship. Both partake in what is a very unhealthy relationship, but neither recognize their relationship as being unhealthy. Instead, it’s normal.
Veronica is also insecure, and to get the attention she wants, Veronica does things like get drunk and tell her peers to feel her breasts so that she can prove they’re real. Her insecurity is what leads to her participation in group sex with Mollie and Sam. Her insecurity also drives her to have an affair with Sam. Veronica is so desperate for love and attention that she puts herself in unhealthy situations.
What astounded me about this novel was that at no point do the characters consider that their sexual encounters when drunk are not okay, and that even when sober, it’s easy for characters like Mollie to brush off something that makes her uncomfortable because it’s more important for her to do whatever it takes to keep Sam’s attention on her. In addition, no characters point out to Mollie or Veronica that what they’re going through is not okay, with the exception of Mollie and Alex slut-shaming Veronica. The only time anyone says something is not okay is when Mollie and Alex tell Veronica about her almost being sexually assaulted by a teacher—they express much relief that they were able to stop anything from happening.
I came away from the book wondering how normal this is for teenagers. My high school experience was the opposite of Mollie’s, Veronica’s, and Alex’s, and sexual violence wasn’t something I considered as a teen. My friends and I were never in the situations Mollie and Veronica experience, so I never had a reason to think about them.
It makes me wonder if it’s something teens think about, or, if like Mollie and Veronica, they either don’t think about what rape can be or they choose not to care. The adults in the novel have no idea what’s going on in Mollie’s, Veronica’s, and Alex’s lives, and I wonder how many teens that’s true for, and how many lack the education they need about a topic that is so important, not just for girls, but for boys. This book isn’t just about sexual violence. It’s also about what makes a healthy relationship and what doesn’t, and while it’s glaringly obvious what relationships aren’t healthy in this novel and why, it might be harder for teens who aren’t clear about the definition of rape to discern what rape is and what rape isn’t based on how the characters describe their experiences.
Books like Those Girls are needed if we want teens to be aware that what happens in the book can and do happen and if we want them to be able to recognize rape in all the various forms it can take, as well as recognizing what makes a healthy relationship. Even though it’s been several weeks since I finished the book, I find myself still thinking about it. It’s not an easy read, but it’s not supposed to be, and I’m glad it isn’t because it’s a great book for starting much-needed discussions with teens.
Kelly Brocklehurst is a youth services librarian whose primary interest is diversity in youth literature. When not working or reading, she’s usually writing poetry, watching basketball, and listening to music much too loudly. Kelly blogs at Kelly’s Library Life and is also on Twitter: @ YALibrarianKel.
About THOSE GIRLS:
Some girls will always have your back, and some girls can’t help but stab you in it.
Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: they’re the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them–and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band–without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved–literally, figuratively, physically….she’s not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever….or tears them apart for good?
Lauren Saft masterfully conveys what goes on in the mind of a teenage girl, and her debut novel is raw, honest, hilarious, and thought-provoking, with a healthy dose of heart. (Publishes June 9th by Poppy)
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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