Book Review: Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian
From William C. Morris YA Debut Award nominee Carrie Mesrobian, Cut Both Ways is an unflinching look at a high school senior who must come to terms with his attraction to both his girlfriend and his male best friend.
It took Will Caynes seventeen years to have his first kiss. He should be ecstatic…except that it was shared with his best friend, Angus, while they were both drunk and stoned. Will’s not gay, but he did sort of enjoy whatever it was he felt with Angus. Unsettled by his growing interest in Angus, Will avoids his friend, and even starts dating a sophomore, Brandy. When he’s hooking up with her, he’s totally into it, so he must be straight, right? Then why does he secretly keep going back to Angus?
Confusing as Will’s feelings are, they’re a welcome distraction from his complicated home life. His father has started drinking earlier each day when he should be working on what seem like never-ending house renovations. And his mom—living in a McMansion with her new husband—isn’t much help, just buying Will a bunch of stuff he doesn’t need. Neither feels like much of a parent—which leaves Will on his own in figuring things out with his girlfriend and best friend. He loves them both, but deciding who to be with will ultimately hurt someone. Himself probably the most.
Here’s the thing: Carrie Mesrobian writes in a way that completely meshes with what I, as a reader, want. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind what others may perceive as a small plot (more on that later). I like characters who talk a lot and/or spend a lot of time in their own heads mulling stuff over. I’d be perfectly content to read an entire book of just conversations or endless intropection and not much more. I also love a book that leaves a story with a somewhat open ending–or even a totally unresolved ending. Life doesn’t have tidy endings. Things rarely get wrapped up neatly or at all. I love a book that says, hey, a character is having some realizations or working toward some kind of resolution, but they are not there yet. It’s honest and brave and, in my opinion, happens far too infrequently.
The last notes I took as I read this were, “So good. So Carrie.” If four words could be a full review, those would be the four words. As she did in her previous two books, Mesrobian excels in creating not just characters in general, but teen boy characters. She nails the tone, language, and narrative voice. Will is crass, sex-obsessed, thoughtful, and uncertain. He’s honest, but a liar. He’s a city kid who lives in his dad’s nearly uninhabitable under-renovation house, but also lives part-time in his mom’s perfect and generic sprawling suburban home. He’s an only child at his dad’s house, but a big brother at his mom’s. He seems, for the most part, equally attracted to Angus and to Brandy. And that part of the storyline alone would be enough fodder for a novel—figuring out your sexuality and then deciding if and how to come out and how to navigate your relationships. But Will has to deal with his dad’s alcoholism, the disaster of his dad’s house, his new job, and the constant shuffling of his living situation.
This is where I want to point out that all of this is Plenty of Plot. These are not small things. They are also not Too Many Things going on. The plot reads like a very realistic look at the life of any teenager—many small daily dramas and an overall sense of feeling equal parts lost and excited. The plot is basically A Teenager Lives the Life of a Teenager. Anyone who has read Mesrobian’s previous books also knows that she writes truthfully and graphically about sex. (I hate that easily shocked pearl-clutching censors have stolen the word “graphic” as a descriptor and given it a negative connotation. I just mean “graphic” as in a clear and realistic picture.) Given that pretty much the basis of the entire novel is Will’s newly awakened sexuality, and the fact that he has two partners he’s sexually involved with, there are plenty of descriptive sex scenes here. The characters stay out all night, swear, lie, drink, smoke pot, and do all of the other stuff that happens in real teens’ lives.
Mesrobian understands how teens think, talk, and act and never sugarcoats plot points or shies away from an unvarnished look at her characters’ lives. Fans of her first two books, Sex & Violence and Perfectly Good White Boy, will walk into this one knowing exactly what to expect (meaning it’s predictable in all the best ways). This intense and raw read will appeal widely to fans of contemporary YA, but especially to those looking for LGBTQIA+ stories or those who feel a little uncertain about where home is, who they are, or how to make big decisions. So, you know, everyone.
Review copy courtesy of the author
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/01/2015
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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