I've been itching to read Sex & Violence since it first came to my attention, so I am thrilled to be part of its blog tour today! A huge thank you to Heather @ The Flyleaf Review for putting together this tour (and inviting me to be part of it!) and to Wendy @ The Midnight Garden for designing the tour banner and button! You ladies rock!
Title: Sex & Violence
Author: Carrie Mesrobian
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Amazon / B&N / GoodReads
I am, largely, speechless when it comes to Sex & Violence. Obviously, its title is an eye-catcher, not to mention its cover, but the majority of my inability to articulate coherent phrases stems from the fact that I - still - find it difficult to decipher my feelings for this novel. While I firmly believe that Mesrobian's debut is brilliant, touching upon "taboo" subjects with a prose that is both gripping and poignant, I cannot claim to have wholly loved it, heart and soul.
Sex & Violence is told from the perspective of Evan Carter, a typical teenage boy whose sole preoccupation lies with the opposite gender. Ever since his mother died, Evan and his father have moved from city to city, which has given Evan the perpetual status of the New Guy. Fortunately for him, he has learned to cope with his lifestyle, making the most of it by narrowing his sights on the girls most likely to put out, having sex with them, and moving on before the relationship can progress any further. Needless to say, Evan isn't a very nice person, so perhaps it isn't much of a surprise when karma finally gets back at him - big time. While "dating" Collette, the ex-girlfriend of his roommate, Evan is beaten brutally and left, hurting, in a shower. In order to help his son heal and cope with the trauma he has faced, Evan's father moves him to a quiet cabin in Pearl Lake, a small town with an aura of friendliness. Evan, however, doesn't simply have to move on from his past - he needs to find a way to prevent it from occurring again.
Immediately, what jumps out at me about Sex & Violence is its honest, brutal prose. Mesrobian doesn't hesitate to shove all the darkest corners of Evan's thought into the limelight, portraying him a manner that is both unflinching, but often disconcerting - in the best way possible. I've discovered, surprisingly, that I rather enjoy having a narrator whose flaws are outlined from the very beginning. It creates a different reading experience altogether; one a little more intimate as, obviously, we're meant to be rooting for this guy, although we know all the horrible acts he's committed.
Nevertheless, while many may shirk away from a character like Evan, I couldn't help but embrace him, particularly because his growth throughout the novel is impeccably paced. While Evan starts out suffering severe PTSD, unable to step into a shower for months on end, his slow change is subtle. Moreover, for someone like Evan who has made sexual activity - and just sexual activity, without dating or emotions - a lifeline, it takes more than just one brutal beating to knock him into normalcy. Mesrobian understands this and although Evan suffers tremendously within the opening chapters of this novel, his anguish doesn't end; rather, it continues and manifests itself in different ways as Evan battles his past and tries to move on, desperately, into a future he is unable to even imagine.
Yet, my hands-down favorite aspect of this novel was its portrayal of women. Now, this may seem incredibly ironic as the protagonist of our story is a young man who sleeps with a multitude of teens, without any regard for them whatsoever, but the underlying themes of this novel truly come to light with Mesrobian's characterization. Although the novel could - easily - give rise to slut-shaming, it avoids this completely. Even Evan, the ultimate man-whore, contemplates the double standards of society as a girl seeking sex is a slut while a guy seeking sex is just "sowing his oats", as the expression goes. Thus, Evan really doesn't judge. What Mesrobian manages to covey, so perfectly, is the idea that no matter what kind of girl you are - the kind who has sex, the kind who waits for sex, or even the kind who does everything but sex - there's nothing to be ashamed of. Evan forms friendships with girls who fall into all these categories, and ones in-between too, but he discovers, at the end of the day, that their sex lives have no bearing on their personality, their ambition, their drive, or their futures. For me, the fact that this theme is so subtle - is so accepted - is far more effective than an in-your-face message. Ultimately, all these teens, no matter what they've chosen to do with their bodies, are seen as empowered without one specific "path" proven to be better - morally or psychologically.
Although Sex & Violence has so much going for it, I must admit that the narration could drag at times, losing my interest for a few pages every-so-often. Additionally, I feel as if Mesrobian took quite a lot on her plate. Issues such as sex and violence are difficult enough to discuss in an effective manner - particularly violence which is romanticized by the media though portrayed in a realistic manner in this novel - but into this mix, Mesrobian throws in a complicated father-son relationship, exacerbated by an uncle who is mysteriously absent from their lives. While I enjoyed - very much - the dynamics of the relationship between Evan and his father, the lack of closure was a little bothersome. Moreover, Uncle Soren makes a shot-gun appearance at the end of this novel, conveniently tying up a minor plot thread, but throwing off the balance of the story arc. Likewise, the excuses given for Evan's behavior during the last pages of this novel - the mysterious story of the Cupcake Lady of Tacoma finally revealed! - felt forced and lacked any true impact for me, as a reader. While Mesrobian attempts to build an honest image of Evan's life, her last-minute justifications for his behavior regarding sex didn't add to the story in the least. On the contrary, I felt as if the journey Evan underwent as a rather normal teenage boy with a severe misunderstanding of sex and respect was a much better angle to stick with, from beginning to end.
While the ending chapters of this story may have diminished my love for the story as a whole, just a little bit, there is no denying that Sex & Violence is the type of bold and gritty reads I've craved - for awhile, now - to appear in YA. Mesrobian's novel is what many more books need to be and I sincerely hope that, if not sparking a revolution of far more honest and realistic YA, Mesrobian at least returns to the genre in her sophomore novel to touch upon more "taboo" subjects that other authors are too afraid to approach, even with a ten-foot pole. Needless to say, Sex & Violence is an incredible debut and I can only wait - eagerly - for more.
I’ve worked as a teacher in both public and private schools; my writing has appeared in the StarTribune, Brain, Child magazine, Calyx, and other web and print publications. I teach teenagers about writing at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. However, the best job I ever had was when I worked in a thrift store pawing through donations of cast-off junk. Loved that job so much. My debut YA novel is Sex & Violence, published by Carolrhoda LAB. I have another book coming out next October (2014), again with Carolrhoda LAB. I live with Adrian, my husband, Matilda, my daughter, and Pablo, my dog/publicity manager.