The battle of the sexes is a theme going back a long time in literature and in her sophomore novel Kody Keplinger draws on one of the classic examples: Aristophanes' Lysistrata. In this Greek comedy, Lysistrata gathers together the women of the warring cities Athens and Sparta and convinces them to withhold sex from their husbands until a peace treaty is signed. Keplinger transplants this situation from ancient Greece to high school in small town America, creating a funny romantic comedy that also takes a very honest look at the conflicting and confusing messages young women and men receive about sex today.
Lissa is sick and tired of being ditched by her boyfriend Randy because of a stupid rivalry between the football and the soccer teams that has gone on so long that no one remembers how or why it began. After being left in a car with her top still off while Randy chases down the soccer players who egged the windows three different times this summer, Lissa has had enough. Figuring that she can't be the only girl frustrated by the situation, Lissa calls together a meeting and convinces the other football and soccer players' girlfriends to unite in a strategy sure to convince the boys within two weeks: no more sex until the ridiculous rivalry is over for good.
I haven't read Kody Keplinger's first novel The D.U.F.F. yet and so I was surprised to learn that she's quite a young new author. She wrote The D.U.F.F. during her senior year of high school and is now publishing her sophomore young adult novel as a twenty year old. I'm in my early twenties and work with teens and can say from experience that my youth is both an advantage and a disadvantage in my job. My impression from reading Shut Out was that a young writer of YA literature is in a similar situation. Keplinger's youth shows in her writing style; it is still a little unpolished and the thematic exploration can come across as a little too heavy handed at times. However, the story is generally well-organized, the plot moves quickly and the characters are engaging. Additionally, Keplinger tackles topics that remain somewhat taboo in young adult literature (such as frank discussion of sex and sexual politics) with a great deal of honesty. Her characters are worried and bound by very real and very confusing social pressures about sex; they also cuss more than most characters in YA novels, a detail that I feel, to be honest, reflects a larger portion of real teens' habits.
As tensions mount and a whole new war begins between the boys and the girls, Lissa finds herself seeing more and more contradictions between the way people talk about boys and sex versus the way they talk about girls and sex. Why can a guy flirt all the time and be considered attractive but a girl who flirts too much is a slut? If a guy likes sex he's normal but if a girl likes sex 'too much,' she's (again) a slut? But if a girl is a virgin, that's not okay either? What's normal for sex and how can a girl know if no one will talk about it? The girls begin to share their stories and start to realize that maybe there is no single 'normal' when it comes to sexuality. These are questions that most teens are thinking but frequently have no outlet to discuss.
I greatly enjoyed Shut Out. I found myself cheering and jeering the appropriate characters in whispers while reading it at the DMV; I dogeared some particular interesting insights about gender and social expectations about sex. I found it to be both fun and refreshingly honest and I look forward to seeing more from Kody Keplinger over the next few years!
*This review is based on my reading of an advanced reader's copy of this novel that I received in the mail from the publisher via a request at their booth at ALA Annual 2011.