Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Blog Tour: Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian (Review & Guest Post)

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.

Mental Illness and Therapy: Depiction vs. Reality
By: Carrie Mesrobian

When I was writing my debut novel Sex & Violence, I was not kind to Evan Carter, my main character. In the first chapter, Evan is the victim of a brutal assault where he almost dies.

Evan’s father is no great shakes when it comes to psychological sensitivity, for reasons that become clear later, but even he can see that after the assault, his son is dealing with some post-traumatic stress. So, Evan is delivered, a bit against his will, to talk therapy with a woman named Dr. Penny.

Now, a lot of people have dealt with PTSD, mood disorders or other mental illness. A lot of people have gone to talk therapy, too. But it seems like these people are not sharing about any of this in a realistic way, as I continually see unrealistic and clichéd depictions of mental illness and therapeutic practice in books, television and movies.

Hence, I’ve made the following lists for writers interested in including mental illness and therapy in their stories:

AVOID:
  • Conflating mental illness with violent behavior
  • Assuming medication for mental illness always fails or always works
  • Putting therapy patients on their backs on sofas or having them attend therapy interminably for years and years i.e. Woody Allen
  • Creating a therapist or counselor who is heroic and ‘saves’ the patient through dramatic breakthrough scenes, e.g. screaming, sobbing on the carpet, healing embraces, etc.
  • Sending your upset character into the old ‘shame shower’ of stress or crying – it’s a boring cliché
  • Featuring labyrinthine schemes left behind by depressed people who die by suicide which explain the ‘real reason’ for their untimely deaths to those close to them
  • Writing therapists who are personally involved with a patient’s daily life (unless you intend to write a therapist who is irresponsible, unethical and probably ineffectual as well)
  • Suggesting that there is a triumphant arc when it comes to ‘defeating’ mental illnesses; these are issues that people must deal with their entire lives and are not generally bested like playground bullies in one dramatic scene
  • Putting mentally ill characters in psychiatric wards where they merely gawk at the other floridly mentally ill people as a kind of exotic field trip (Unless you’re Ned Vizzini.)
  • Creating characters who have no personality but for their mental illness
  • Writing therapy scenes that depict the patient just talking about their past hurts
  • Making sweeping conclusions that suggest that only the crazy people in our society are the sane ones, or that insanity is some kind of blessing or creative gift (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest already did this, and besides, it’s insulting to people who suffer in a real way, every day, with such illnesses)
KEEP IN MIND THE FOLLOWING:
  • Most therapists have a finite number of sessions in which to meet goals with patients
  • Suicide is a choice someone makes, not something that others make them do. Suicidality generally has three distinct risk factors; insinuating that others are ‘responsible’ for the suicide deaths of people is irresponsible, incorrect and missing the point
  • Most people’s insurance plans don’t fully cover addiction recovery, mental health treatment or therapy         
  • All therapists are not skilled at what they do; in fact, joint therapy is one of the most difficult types of therapeutic practices to be skilled at
  • Many people who go to therapy go unwillingly, therefore gains may be small or nonexistent
  • There are different physiological, emotional and behavioral components to each specific disorder; while there can be dual diagnoses, there is no General Crazy. Study up on the illness or disorder you want to depict.
  • Teenagers with mental illness may get well-meaning help, but many do not comply with recommendations from parents, counselors or doctors (big shock there, huh?)
  • Many mental illnesses require medication and medical treatment as well talk or group therapy
  • Much of therapy is about educating patients on living with their illness, offering them strategies for dealing with stress and interpersonal conflicts
  • Mental illness is not generally eradicated by the patient unearthing some horrible trauma from their childhood. Such realizations are helpful, no doubt, but much of mental illness must address imbalanced brain/body chemistry and behavior changes.
  • Addiction and mental illness often occur together, as people self-medicate to deal with emotional issues
  • People still don’t want to talk about mental illness. Characters with these illnesses will surely contend with shame/stigma about this
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 & Violencepublished 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.
Visit Carrie: Website / Blog / Twitter / Tumblr / GoodReads

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour for Carrie Mesrobian's debut, Sex & Violence

Sex & Violence Blog Tour Schedule

 Monday  11/4 

Tuesday  11/5 

 Wednesday 11/6  

 Thursday  11/7 

 Friday  11/8 

19 comments:

  1. This sounds like a complex novel that isn't without its faults. Mental illness is so tricky to portray and, in many cases, I just avoid it because authors don't always do their due diligence and ensure that it's completely accurate, you know? I'm not sure this is for me, but I appreciate your thorough and really honest review :)

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  2. This sounds like such a powerful read Keertana, and I can't even explain to you how much I love that she manages to portray women (and their various wants when it comes to sex) in a positive way despite Evan's treatment of them. Absolutely stunning review as always!!!

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  3. I've heard about this book before, and I still want to read it just as much as the first time. It sounds like even with the ending, it was a powerful book. I just read a YA book last night that dealt with a heavier subject, and even though I didn't love it I've found that it's sticking with me. Maybe Sex & Violence will be the same way :)

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  4. I've heard about this book before, and I still want to read it just as much as the first time. It sounds like even with the ending, it was a powerful book. I just read a YA book last night that dealt with a heavier subject, and even though I didn't love it I've found that it's sticking with me. Maybe Sex & Violence will be the same way :)

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  5. This sounds like a book I cannot miss. I have read few taboo books and I tend to really enjoy them. Mostly they are emotional and you get to see feelings clearly. This one sounds even better as the writing sounds great. Also characters. I'm not sure about throwing in another complicated issue when we already have so much to deal with though. But nonetheless I cannot wait to read this one. Also I like the guest post. Great review and thanks for sharing this, Keertana :)

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  6. I liked this one so much, I'm glad you did, too. I actually do agree with you re: Cupcake Lady and, to a degree, Uncle Soren as well--I wasn't as interested in what was going on there, although I didn't mind that there wasn't more of an emphatic father/son resolution, since I think it felt realistic. I much rather it ended that way than with a big confrontation, speech, dramatic loving scene, etc, because all too often when that happens in books or movies or tv or sometimes even life, that can feel so forced.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed being in Evan's head, as weird as it sounds. Aside from a few issues with the ending, I'm glad you connected with the book, too!

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  7. I love how thorough and metodical that list is. Mental illness is always such a sensitive subject, but we rarely see it approached more thoroughly.
    I love the message this book conveys, especially in regards to women. It's really important to approach certain things in the correct way.
    As always, such a beautifully written review.

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  8. I LOVE this review, Keertana! I think even though S & V didn't resonate with you on the same level it did me, you and I took away many of the same things from our reading. Hands down my favorite part of the book was all the different women in Evan's life and how all of them were portrayed as sexually empowered in some way. I love that this book focuses so much on that aspect--it's something I find sorely lacking in most YA these days and I hope that soon changes. I totally agree that this is a powerful debut and I am also VERY excited about Carrie's next book Perfectly Good White Boy. I do hope that book is just as thought provoking as S & V:)

    Thank you so much for participating in this tour--it's a thoughtful review as always:)

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  9. Thanks for another awesome and thoughtful review!

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  10. Despite the fact that it does lose your attention in spots, it does sound like good writing. I do enjoy a character growth book and this looks like it has it in spades. I also like that it doesn't slut-shame at all so that is a huge plus for me as well. This is a book I would have passed on if it wasn't for the review! Brilly!

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  11. I first heard of S & V from Heather, and I've been excited for this novel ever since --still am! All the positive points you hit confirm why I've been looking forward to this one so much: gripping prose, honest narration, and powerful messages regarding mental illness and women. Even though you didn't love S & V, the ideas in this novel were clearly stimulating; your articulate and thoughtful review reinforces it, Keertana. Thank you for writing it. :)

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  12. "ltimately, 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."

    Loved your comment about women and sex as portrayed in the book, which wasn't something I talked about in my review. And I do agree with you that I didn't think Evan needed reasons (Cupcake Lady, his father's job transfers) to want to have no-strings attached sex. I mean, he's a guy, and a teenage guy at that.

    I love gritty books, I love guy POVs and I really enjoyed this one…

    Jen @ YA Romantics

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  13. Huh this sounds like a very interesting book! That's awesome that you were able to like what seems to be a stereotypically unlikable character (although from what you've described here, I imagine that I would also end up liking Evan's characterization. It's always refreshing to have a different sort of protagonist.) And your mention of the subtle messages found within this book sounds awesome. That's too bad that you felt the ending diminished some of the novel's strength though - I hate it when that happens!

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  14. I'm not sure that this is for me even though it sounds like a powerful read. Just from what I've read I have a feeling I would dislike Evan. I have a hard time enjoying a story if I don't care for the main character. When you treat human beings like trash for you to use up life has a way of paying you back, and I'm not sure I want to read a story about that. Wonderful review, Keertana. I totally understand how you could appreciate the story without wholly loving it.

    I enjoyed Carrie's insights on mental illness and it's portrayal in books. Wonderful post ladies! :)

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  15. WOW. this is such a thoughtful review of a novel that I will admit to still be frightened to read! I love it tackles such a tough subject head on and shows empowered women, but I still haven't worked up the guts to start it. I also really appreciate the sensitivity and reality that Carrie brings to mental illness, which is so misunderstood. Both what it is and how to treat it.

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  16. Sex and violence are two related words. Sex should be in the human's control and human should not be in the control of sex.
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