The first thing that I have to say about Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, by Maryrose Wood, is that, despite the title, it's NOT about sex. It's about relatively innocent high school freshmen exploring the world of love and dating. If anything, it's almost too cute for words. But not quite. Instead, it's simply adorable.
The Sex Kittens of the title are three fourteen-year-old best friends who attend the Manhattan Free Children's School. They've christened themselves the Sex Kittens in response to a karmic incident with a kitten-themed deck of Tarot cards. (You'll have to read the book for details.) Naturally, once they call themselves Sex Kittens, it's a logical extension that they refer to the boys at their school as Horn Dawgs (or just Dawgs for short), and to the school as "The Pound."
The narrator is Felicia, a young poet who lives in a tiny apartment with her bohemian mother. Felicia's defining attribute (besides being a poet) is her hopeless and consuming crush on Matthew, a classmate who is fixated on science experiments. In a moment of mind-boggling bravery, Felicia confesses her crush to Matthew, and proposed that they do an experiment for the upcoming science fair. Specifically, Felicia wants to explore X, that mysterious something that makes her fall for Matthew, while he remains largely indifferent to her. Matthew, in the interest of science, agrees to the project, and they unlikely duo is off!
Matthew and Felicia interview people, they devise and watch various experiments, they collect data, and they do learn a few things along the way. Meanwhile, their collection of friends, Jess and Kat, Randall and Trip and Jacob, and eventually Deej, all have their own experiences with love, too. These are very PG experiences of love, by the way, with some hand-holding and kissing, but nothing at all for the book banners to grab hold of (beyond the title itself). There's a great deal about the feeling of being in love, the pains in the pit of your stomach, the wardrobe indecision, the rapid heartbeats... But overall, these are nice, believable kids who are easy to get attached to.
What I like best about this book is the use of language. Felicia is a poet, and she is constantly making up or modifying words. The one that sticks with me that most is "insert sound of the Chinese gong, reverbeverbeverberating!" Isn't that great? The word reverberating is reverberating itself. There are also a lot of words in all caps, followed by exclamation points. This took me a bit of getting used to, but I have to say that it accurately reflects the moods and expressiveness of Felicia and her friends. These are high school freshmen, excited about first love and the freedom offered by their new school. They should speak with exaggerated emphasis, shouldn't they? If I had access to notes from my own 9th grade self, I'm sure that they would be filled with exclamation points, underlinings, and made up words. All that's missing in the text of the book are little doodles of hearts and rainbows and champagne glasses (though there is some of that on the cover).
There are plenty of other nice things about the book. The girls are, for the most part, self-confident, and the kids all have talents and interests that they're passionate about. Felicia has a wonderfully close relationship with her Mom, and a believably strained relationship with her suburban father (and his new family). There's a great scene in which the kids from The Pound stand up to some "unhip" racist idiots, in defense of their new friend Deej and her schoolmates. But really, the reason to read this book is that the Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs are realistic portrayals of nice kids having their first look at love. Who wouldn't want to spend time with them?
This book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on July 16th, 2006.