According to Burgess, he wrote this, his third YA (young adult) book because, "I do believe that we have let young men down very badly in terms of the kinds of books written for them. This book is my go at trying to bring young male sexual culture into writing." I'm not sure I really buy the premise that teenage boys are lacking in representations of their "sexual culture," it may just be that they are located in film (from Porky's to American Pie to Superbad) rather than books. I'm pretty sure that one could make the reverse statement about teenage girls and film -- but whatever the case, one thing I have noticed as a casual reader of teen lit is that over the last ten years,YA authors and publishers have been increasingly heading for edgier and more controversial terrain.
This story definitely fits that mold, as it revolves around the sex lives of three 17-year-old boys in England and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to graphic language or description (albeit in British slang that American parents may not find as objectionable). It's not exactly breaking news that teenage boys are obsessed with sex, and what Burgess does here is try to give expression to that. While it does succeed in fits and starts, the story is more notable for how boring it generally is, and how soap-operaish the plotlines are, than it is for breaking any kind of new ground. The first 1/4 to 1/3 of the book is especially tedious as Burgess labors to set up Dino (incredibly handsome and dating the school babe), Ben (apparently hapless with the girls, but secretly having crazy sex with a 20-something drama teacher), and Jon (the loudmouth with a crush on a slightly chubby girl). After this tedious setup, the book finally gets going as Dino encounters increasing frustration in his attempt to lose his virginity, Ben encounters increasing distress as his secret sex life, and Jon encounters increasing distress as his attraction to the chubby girl.
Unfortunately there's just not that much that's interesting. Gee, guys have anxieties about sex too? Shocking! Guys talk and joke about sex all the time in great detail? Shocking! I guess it's nice that the main characters express a range of attitudes, from Dino's extreme horndog duplicity to Ben's implausibly maturity, to Jon's aching obsession with how others will perceive his relationship with chubby Debbie. Similarly, the women evoke a range of sexuality, from pretty Jackie's on-again, off-again desire to "do it" with Dino, to Debbie's good-natured good-time attitude, to the teacher's sick emotional and physical manipulation, to a fourth girl's utilitarian attitude. But too many of the characters sounds too much alike, and like many YA books, they are generally a touch too self-aware to be realistic.
Ultimately, the book just isn't interesting or good enough to warrant the controversy it seems to have sparked (at least in England). Perhaps the most telling verdict is that it was the basis for an ABC teen series that lasted all of one year.
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