Last week, I read Carrie Mesrobian's SEX & VIOLENCE, and it was amazing, so of course I dove right in to her second novel, PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY.
I'd already heard bits of PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY before, when Christa Desir read from a few scenes during workshops at Midwest Writers Workshop, so I already knew it was another excellent, voice-filled novel. In SEX & VIOLENCE, Evan was compelling and so, so readable, but PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY's Sean was even moreso: whereas Evan grew into being a likable narrator, Sean started off that way. He was a good guy with a good heart, doing his best to figure shit out.
Sean's got a pretty crappy home life. His parents are getting divorced, his dad is in rehab, and he's constantly at war with his older brother. He wants to get away and join the Marines, but he knows there's no way his Mom will approve of that, so he has to wait until he's eighteen and she can't stop him. Sean hooks up with Hallie, a senior girl at a party, and their relationship is brief and intense—Sean loses his virginity to her—but then she leaves for college, leaving Sean heartbroken.
Enter Neecie, Sean's coworker at the Thrift Bin, who used to wear hearing aids (and still does, but they're less obtrusive), and is apparently hooking up with the school's hockey stud on the sly. Sean and Neecie become fast friends, and maybe more—Sean isn't sure about that part.
PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY was an amazing study of a boy about to become a man, complete with all the firsts and foibles that go with it. Much like SEX & VIOLENCE's Evan, Sean makes mistakes sometimes, but he tries and he tries.
I adored PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY. It was absorbing and it was lovely and it really made me think.
More on that last point, but it's kind of a spoiler, so you should definitely go read the book first.
I can wait...
There's a scene toward the end of the book where Hallie—who Sean has been "casually" hooking up with—tells him that she had an abortion. And then she admitted to Sean that he wasn't the only guy he had been sleeping with.
And my immediate, visceral reaction was: What a slut.
I'm not proud of it. I think I was more hurt on Sean's behalf than anything, because it felt like Sean still had feelings for her, and it seemed like such a huge betrayal.
But it was an intense reaction. It really shocked me how quickly I fell into slut-shaming. I never thought that about Evan in SEX & VIOLENCE, after all, and I didn't think it about any of the females in SEX & VIOLENCE either, even when they were sleeping around with multiple partners. Was it because I was in Sean's head that time? Is it a general failure of my own empathy as a man? A cultural thing?
What do girls who read PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY think about how Hallie acted? What if Sean and Hallie's genders had been swapped?
I don't know. But in a way, I'm glad I had the reaction I did, because it's important to think about these things, and PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY really made me think.