Pop! by Aury Wallington.
The Plot: Marit has made a decision: she's going to lose her virginity. She's also going to get a boyfriend. The thing is, she has also decided that these two things have nothing to do with each other. She has a crush on the new guy at school, Noah; but she believes her nervousness about sex is getting in the way. Luckily, there's her best friend Jamie. She doesn't love him, but she trusts him. Things don't always go according to plan...
The Good: I think Pop! is one of the frankest books I've read about someone losing their virginity; I'm not surprised to find out that Wallington was a writer for Sex and The City. (She also wrote for Veronica Mars! How cool is she!) What's weird is it's also the second book I've read recently where a teenage girl makes this decision based on society. Here, Marit is convinced that she's the last virgin in her class; in This Is All, Cordelia wanted to go against statistics and have sex before teens statistically have sex. (Another interesting point -- in neither of these books are those assumptions questioned; Marit truly believes she's the last virgin, Cordelia truly believes the stats about the average age a teenager has sex; and both use it as a jumping off point for action. It's treated no differently than someone saying, the average age people learn how to swim is 16 and I need to start lessons now!)
Anyway, while the sex is explicit, it is described in an almost clinical way; it's not a romance novel version of sex. There was some controversy about this title; I think realistic first time sex is a lot healthier for a teen to read about than those books that are all romance novel sex. (And I say this as a reader of the romance genre; I'm not putting down that genre. I'm just saying, what is better, the myth of romance novels of the realism of Pop?.) The book is the upper YA range, it's not for middle school. As a comparison, it's no more explicit than This Is All, Doing It, or King Dork.
I liked Marit; but I did find her choices a little odd. Sex with one boy, dating another.... It's like she fears the emotional intimacy of sex, so enters into a sexual relationship with someone who is a friend to keep a certain emotional distance from it. She creates a relationship where she can create physical intimacy with one person without emotional intimacy; and emotional intimacy without physical intimacy. Of course, nothing works out the way she imagines it will, or hopes it will, and the ending... I don't give too much away about the ending, but there is much to chat about in the comments, if you like.
I have to say, when Noah finds out what's been going on, I felt sympathy for him -- and I hope he doesn't get together with Marit. And I feel sorry for Jamie. Marit realizes the dilemma: "Because sleeping with one guy when you were trying to get something started with another? Ranked right up there on the Top Ten Tackiest Ways to Ruin a Friendship."
Are you wondering why I'm reviewing this, as it's a bit clear that personally I was a bit surprised by Marit's motivation and choices? The thing is, whether or not I agree with her moral choices, it is depicted realistically, with respect, and with humor. And this is a very funny book because Marit is funny. On looking at a self portrait she's drawn, she muses that "It was supposed to be a pop-art portrait, but in it, I looked more like a Japanimation action hero. Apparently, when I looked in a mirror, what I saw was Sailor Moon."
Not surprisingly, I kept on picturing this as a movie or TV show and I think with a good actress in the lead role, I would have a better understanding of what Marit did . Things I liked: the dialogue between the characters, the stuff they did for fun (watching movies, hangout out), I even pictured Noah as Jared Padalecki while Marit was a young Claire Danes.
What I liked best about this book is that Marit and her friends are outsiders, deliberately not involved in school. Noah, on the other hand, is Mr. School Spirit. But guess what? This is NOT a makeover story!! Marit attends a few rah rah events because of Noah's involvement, but never does she have to compromise who she is or change her hair. It's nice to see the Popular Guy/ Arty Girl done in a way where the Arty Girl doesn't have to become someone else.
Links: Bookshelves of Doom review. The teenwire.com interview. Dispatches from an MFA Seeking Writer's take on the controversy and then more thoughts from Dispatches.