wayfarers all

children's literature, childhood and culture (and anything else that strikes my fancy).

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Location: pittsburgh, U.S. Outlying Islands

carbon-based life form: thinking, reading and gardening. New College alum; current grad student writing a dissertation. I specialize in children's literature, media, and culture, and queer/gender studies, with a strong interest in 19th century British literature and culture. I like history, a lot.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

doing it - wow!

on my listserv awhile back, there was quite a hubbub over melvin burgess's YA novel Doing It. which is about a bunch of teenagers and all the sex they are (or are not) having. when the cover blurb of a book advises you to get past the smutty parts, you know something's a bit sketchy....

BUT: i was surprised - really almost shocked - at just what a good book it is. the first maybe fifty pages is unrelentingly smutty (what a good word that is), and i was starting to feel anxious that there was no point to the book. several list members had commented that it was great to finally have a book that was very honestly sexual from a teenage boy's perspective, and i think i'll agree, though since i never was a teenage boy i can't speak to the book's veracity.

Jonathon and Deborah's subplot was the one that won me over. Ben's wistfulness and kindness was touching; Dino's angst over his family situation was interestingly handled, but Jon and Deborah - wow. I give burgess major props for including a "plump" girl in sex scenes, and having her plumpness be sexy to the boy involved. and not just any skunky skanky boy - jon's shyish but otherwise doesn't seem to be insanely geeky or hideous. jon likes deborah's curviness, and deborah's brief narration gives us the sense that, though she wishes she looked like a magazine model, she is tolerably comfortable with her own plumpish body - which is BLISS to encounter in a female teenage character.

i was also oddly touched (really, like moved to tears) by the scene where one of the boys (maybe Dino, but i can't recall, and the book's back at the library) asks the girl he's with if he can look at her genitalia. she replies yes, but it's gross; he looks, and is amazed, finds her and her parts beautiful, and tells her so.

something about this was just phenomenal to me - women and girls generally have such shame about their bodys, and this is the privatest, innermost tucked away part - but also the most public, in a way. the boy's reaction - wonder at the beauty of the girl's privates - is fantastic. and, i think, realistic.

so: at the outset, doing it looks pretty repulsive. the cover of my edition, sort of red and black and white cartoonish drawings, are pretty repulsive. but the book itself is truly astounding. and i've gotten two more burgess books from the library - that's just how impressed with doing it i am.


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