Sex & Violence, a Strong YA Debut

A Review of Sex & Violence, by Carrie Mesrobian

Carolrhoda Lab, 2013

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

by REBECCA, December 11, 2013

review

Evan Carter has moved around a lot his whole life, bouncing from school to school as his father moves for work. And, though he never stays in one place long enough to make close friends, his transience (alongside his profile of The Girl Who Would Say Yes) lends itself to getting lots of action before he and his father move again and he deletes their phone numbers. But, when Evan finds himself at Remington Chase boarding school sleeping with the wrong girl, Collette, everything changes.

After Evan is violently attacked in the showers by his roommate and Collette’s ex-boyfriend, his father takes him to the family cabin in rural Minnesota to recover. Now, Evan is afraid all the time: every man threatens violence; every woman threatens to bring it upon him; he can’t even take a shower without being triggered. But Evan isn’t going anywhere, so, for the first time, he has to really get to know people—especially girls—more deeply than he has before. And what he finds is that perhaps his problems began long before Remington Chase.

I’ve been looking forward to Sex & Violence since February, when the seemingly always right about stuff Andrew Smith wrote about it on his blog. I love complex, fucked up, traumatized, smart, confused, flawed characters, so Sex & Violence seemed like it would be right up my alley. Also, I was uncharacteristically conflicted about the title—usually I know immediately whether I love something or hate something: it’s so descriptive, so literal, that it seems kind of silly, but at the same time, since “sex and violence” is kind of a cliché already, then maybe it’s kind of meta? Like, not a description-of-the-themes-of-the-book title, but the concretization of two themes as one to describe the way they’re necessarily entwined. Then I thought, hey, Rebecca, it’s really not that important; get on with your life/reading the damn book.

Sex & Violence by Carrie MesrobianBut, upon reading the book, the question of the title seemed important once again. Because Sex & Violence, despite its aggressive, titillating title, is a very quiet, subtle book, more like the white-on-white ghost of the shower tiles that haunt the novel than the vibrant blue and red at its center. The novel takes place in the space of Evan’s vulnerability, post-trauma, and Mesrobian attends to this vulnerability with such subtlety that, at times, we almost forget about it. But it’s then, right then, that it rears back into play: a muscular boy standing a little too close; taking a shower; the smell of a girl’s shampoo. Like Evan, we are forced to be hyper-aware of all the details that once seemed meaningless but are now fraught.

And that’s where my investment lay: with Evan and his interiority. The rest of the cast of characters, mostly other teens that Evan makes friends with, did nothing for me. They aren’t interesting or memorable—and I’m not necessarily sure that they need to be. Because I feel generous toward Sex & Violence I choose to read it that way: that Mesrobian is intentionally placing Evan in the unfamiliar waters of navigating the interpersonal relations that are normal to most of us. But, if I felt less than generous, or was less taken by the subtlety of her portrayal of Evan, I could easily write off the rest of the cast, especially Baker, the girl Evan has feelings for, who I think is, of everyone, supposed to interest us.

Sex & Violence is at its strongest in its quiet moments of introspection and its moments of dark humor, and that’s a tall order, I think, especially for an authorial debut. I really enjoyed the book, but more even than that, I’m exciting for more from Carrie Mesrobian, whose second novel, Perfectly Good White Boy, will be out from Carolrhoda Lab in 2014.

readalikes

Winger Andrew Smith

Winger, by Andrew Smith (2013). Ryan Dean West’s trials and tribulations at boarding school include: being a fourteen-year-old junior, being in love with his best friend, Annie, who thinks of him as a kid, and getting close to his gay friend on the rugby team, which brings about trials of its own. My full review of Winger (in which Ryan Dean inspires my new band name, “Catastrophic Fucking Penis Injury”) is HERE.

Leverage Joshua C. Cohen

Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen (2012). Leverage is a beautiful meditation on masculinity, violence, and the overlap between them. My full review of Leverage is HERE.

procured from: the library

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3 Comments

  1. Hm. We only just heard a hint about this book yesterday, and your description isn’t what we expected. It sounds… more literary, and we don’t mean that in a bad way. We’ll have to keep our on eye on this now. It didn’t seem like our kind of thing initially, but you have us second-guessing that judgment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Margalit

     /  December 11, 2013

    Terrific review. This sounds like an intriguing premise, realized in an unusual way. I love the contrast between the title and cover image with the subtlety and interiority you describe. Thanks for the introduction to this new author!

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