At Hamilton High, the boys’ football and soccer teams have gone well beyond rivalry into all-out war, and Lissa is sick of it. Sick of getting egged in her boyfriend’s car, sick of her boyfriend abandoning her to retaliate, and sick of the injuries that happen as things escalate.
Lissa has a plan.
With the help of the girlfriends from both teams, Lissa stages a strike- a sex strike- to force the boys to come to peace. What ripples out is beyond anything she could have imagined.
If you’ve ever read Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, you’ll be on familiar ground here, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Kody takes the original content (even references it within the book!) and updates it with grace and a keen eye for commentary. This is one of those books that everyone should read, not just because of what it says but because of what it can leads other to say. As difficult as it can be to get this kind of book in boys’ hands, between the cover and the story, it’s still one they should read too.
Sex would seem to be at the heart of the story, but really it’s perception and standards and identity and learning your own self-worth. Sex, or the lack thereof, is just the vehicle. When Lissa starts the strike, it’s based on the assumption that without any sex or sex acts, her boyfriend, randy Randy (I don’t know if that was intended to be a pun or not, but either way, I love it), will have to make peace with the soccer team in the name of getting some. Particularly high moral ground? Not really. On either side. But it’s based on a personal principle that, for various reasons, these girls share. And it’s a broad group of girls, ranging from Mary- who’s never done more than kiss- to Chloe, who forgoes the relationships for the uncomplicated sex.
As the girls band together, they have slumber parties that double as a support group- after all, boys aren’t the only ones who want to play. For some of the girls, saying no is just as difficult as being told no. During these parties, a lot of perceptions are challenged. Is it okay for a girl to like sex, or does that make her a whore? Is it okay to be a virgin? Is it abnormal to not enjoy sex? How do you know you’re ready for it? And more, it addresses the double standards that exist in how our society thinks about sex. Why is a boy who sleeps around a player and a girl who sleeps around a slut?
If you read Kody’s blog, you know she takes a strong stance on some feminist issues, and isn’t shy about sharing them. Those reflections come out in the story, and they’re necessary questions. As a society, we have such polarizing views of sex, opinions that we take as fact, and we assign labels that may or may not even be close to true. We look at sex as being very different for males and females, but it’s the same act- why doesn’t it have the same consequences?
More importantly, it raises the point of how essential it is to talk about it. Putting stigmas on it doesn’t keep it from happening but it does keep people from talking about it, which leaves them prey to a whole host of insecurities and questions. There isn’t really a normal when it comes to sex, but how do you know that unless you can talk to others about it without fear or reprisal or condemnation?
To that end, one of the things I wish I would have seen within the book was one adult taken into confidence. One of the more open-minded mothers or a gold-hearted teacher or a cool guidance counselor or something, some adult brought into their plan so that the girls knew they could talk to adults about this stuff as well. Being able to talk to other girls is important, but so it knowing there are more experienced people to go to also. Teens aren’t necessarily the best about taking adults up on those offers to talk- especially if we feel they’re not able to handle what we need to talk about- but if the offer is genuine and the need is great, it’s important to know that we can do it without everything being marked in permanent record somewhere.
Only other thing I really wish I could have seen is for Lissa be on her own a little bit more. Sounds strange after the last comment, I know, but I don’t mean in the sense of literally isolating herself from those trying to help. She’s with Randy, she finds herself attracted to Cash, but I wish I could have seen more of her where she was just Lissa, rather than being someone’s girlfriend, so that she could feel more secure in her choices and in who she chooses to be, neuroses and all. It’s good that she has Chloe to both egg her on and call her on going too far, and it’s good that she Ellen to be this all-encompassing compassion and support and forgiveness, but I really wanted to see her stand on her own feet for a while without tying her name- and some part of her identity- to someone else.
Sex can be a very scary thing to talk about, especially if you’re a teacher or parent. This book can make that a lot easier. What we don’t like to admit is that sex is very much a part of our culture at just about any age, whether it’s simply being exposed to it through media, avoiding it like the plague, or actually participating in it, sex is present. And it’s not going to go away or not become an issue by ignoring it or refusing to talk about it. If kids have questions they’re hesitant to ask, point them to this book, and then let them know you’re there to talk on the other side if they’d like. Teens? It’s okay to ask questions. Maybe not every adult is able to handle them, but there are those who are, and they’re around.
Shut Out by Kody Keplinger is a must read for all ages, for anyone who has ever had to deal with questions or standards or insecurities connected to sex and dating. Its release date is September 5th, but it’s out in the wild in some stores a bit early.
Want more Kody? Check out her previous title The DUFF (reviewed here), or follow her on twitter- @kodykeplinger . And for today and tomorrow (ending 1 September) tweet with the hashtag #shutouttrailer for a chance to win an ARC of the book AND a print from the trailer!
Until next time~