Carrie Mesrobian's books had been on my radar for a while, for a number of reasons, but they became even more imperative after I met author Christa Desir at Midwest Writers Workshop. At the sessions I attended, Mesrobian's books were used as examples of excellent voice (in general), excellent guy voice, and authentic, honest portrayals of sexuality.
And then I started listening to the podcast that the two authors co-produce, The Oral History Podcast, which is about sex in YA literature, and it's hilarious and wonderful and everyone should listen to it.
Anyway. SEX & VIOLENCE.
Even Carter's father moves around so often, he's never finished a year of school the same place he started it. He's always the new kid, and he never has any friends, but he finds ways to meet people: he's identified the profile of The Girl Who Would Say Yes, so at least he has someone to hook up with. But at his latest school, when he hooks up with a girl whose ex isn't over her, he ends up getting attacked—so badly he gets a ruptured spleen—and his father moves him (again!) to his old home in Minnesota to recover.
I knew going in that SEX & VIOLENCE would be so much more than the title suggested, but I was still surprised at the turns it took. The story follows Evan's struggle with PTSD, his work with his therapist, and his making friends for the first time ever. It follows Evan getting to know his dad for the first time. And it follows him redefining his own attitude toward sex.
I can't talk about the things that most impressed me with the story without giving away the ending. But here's what I can say:
I loved the voice. It was spot-on. I've read a lot of books lately that had male narrators where the guy felt stifled, robbed of emotion and depth. Carrie Mesrobian got Evan spot on: he felt things deeply and passionately, he just didn't know how to express them out loud. But he knew how to express them to me, the reader.
I loved the cast of characters. I felt like I was really on that lake in Minnesota with him, like the friends Evan made were all people I knew.
I loved that Evan made mistakes, even when he knew he was making them, and he didn't know how to break his own pattern of behavior. That's one of the truest struggles of being young: knowing something is wrong but not knowing how to fix it.
I loved how honestly sex was portrayed. It was never romanticized, but it was never sensationalized, either. And I saw what a big part of Evan's character sex was: not the having it, but his attitudes toward it, his formative experiences with it. There were some surprises in there that I was not expecting.
I loved watching Evan heal and regress and grow up and grow wiser and still do stupid shit sometimes.
SEX & VIOLENCE was not a "fun" read. It was dark and moody at times, and I so desperately wanted Evan to be okay. But it was a truly enjoyable one, hard to put down and impossible to forget.
I'm already most of the way through Mesrobian's next book, PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY, and I can't wait for her forthcoming third book, CUT BOTH WAYS.
And, of course, I can't wait for the next episode of The Oral History Podcast.
Christa Desir was right: It really is like a dirty Prairie Home Companion.