Saturday, May 19, 2012

Who Has All the Power?

Shut Out
How do you get teenage boys to listen to you and stop acting like idiots? Well, if you are their girlfriends, you can withhold the one thing they can't live without... nope, not food, but you are close! Kody Keplinger's edgy but adorable novel Shut Out shows exactly what goes on in the heads of teenagers... And you might not always want to admit that you were once exactly like them!

Hamilton High is at war, and while the two rival sides, the soccer team and the football team, seem to enjoy their war, their girlfriends wish it would just end. The war started years ago, but the boys are just as serious about it now as the original teams were when it started. They egg each others cars, they interrupt dates, and they even get carried away to the point of a few guys getting hurt. Lissa made her boyfriend Randy promise to stay out of the war, but when he treats her like a "drive by" on the way to more mischief, she has had enough. She calls the girls together with a plan.

The girls are staging a Shut Out. The football girlfriends and the soccer girlfriends are banding together to withhold all sex and "other stuff" from their boyfriends until the stupid feud is called off. At first the girls are skeptical, but by banding together, they not only learn something about the boys they are dating (and not always something good), but they also learn something about themselves. Can the girls end the rivalry once and for all before it rips everyone apart?

I know what you are going to say. This is too provocative and too sexual for a young adult novel. You would be both right and wrong. Yes, it is provocative and sexual, but no, it isn't too much for the older end of this age group. I probably wouldn't give it to a young middle school student, but for the older YA crowd, this is a really well done novel that discusses the sexual intentions and understandings of teens. And not all girls are monogamous, not all are virgins, but not all are sexually active either. Some are embarrassed by their lack of experience, and some are ridiculed for being open about enjoying sex. There is a wide variety of girls and experiences, but they have one thing in common... they are all unsure in themselves and the world around them. Yes, this is a provocative and sexual novel, but it has a wide variety of young women our YA readers can relate to and look up to. I liked this. It is important to speak candidly to teenagers, and Keplinger never fails to do so. It may be her age (total lack of jadedness that comes with advanced age), but Keplinger doesn't hesitate to write about REAL teen issues, and sexual experience and pressures are a common issue. 

And that is where this novel works for me. It isn't sex for the sake of having sex, it has a purpose. Girls doubt themselves, they succumb to pressure, and they do things they are unsure of. The mixture of girls in this story really represents any clique of girls out there in the world, and they can all be different and still make it work. I also love the strong message that sex isn't something to be ashamed of, but also isn't something to keep your boyfriend around and not cheating either. In fact, when they were still planning the Shut Out, one girl expressed she was worried the boys would cheat on them if they Shut them out. Another girl responded by saying that if they did cheat, they weren't worth their time anyway and they should be happy to learn about that side of their boyfriends if it was there. Shut Out really had strong characters and ideals behind the mature and realistic topic.

I would probably give this to a high school student, although I can't imagine many boys would want to read it (or want their girlfriends to read it for fear of them getting any ideas!). I really like Keplinger's books. They combine realistic issues with fun stories, and always a little romance! You can root for the characters because you always see a little of yourself in at least one of them. I am impressed with this author's candor and look forward to seeing more of her writing. She knows how to speak to young adults in a way that neither patronizes them nor trivializes their issues. I wish I had an author like Keplinger out there when I was a young adult! 

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