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Doing It

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The award-winning author Melvin Burgess’s ribald and insightful account of contemporary teenage life chronicles the ups and downs of doing it. The controversial book on which the cult favorite ABC television series Life As We Know It (now available on DVD) was based, Doing It introduces us to Dino, Jon, and Ben, three teenage best friends who can’t stop thinking about, and talking about (and hoping to experience) sex.

Three teenage friends, Dino, Jonathon, and Ben, ...

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Doing It

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Overview

The award-winning author Melvin Burgess’s ribald and insightful account of contemporary teenage life chronicles the ups and downs of doing it. The controversial book on which the cult favorite ABC television series Life As We Know It (now available on DVD) was based, Doing It introduces us to Dino, Jon, and Ben, three teenage best friends who can’t stop thinking about, and talking about (and hoping to experience) sex.

Three teenage friends, Dino, Jonathon, and Ben, confront the confusions, fears, and joys of adolescent male sexuality.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Sex, boys, and even more sex is the theme of this smart, often hilarious novel from the award-winning author of Smack, Melvin Burgess. Taking on another taboo subject for mature younger audiences, Burgess dives into the lives of three British teens -- Dino, Ben, and Jonathan -- as they try to navigate relationships and family life in between snogs and shags. First off, good-looking Dino, who's dating Jackie, is frustrated because she waffles about having sex with him; his solution is to happily date her and sleep with Zoë on the side. Ben likes sexually charged Deborah, but she's a "plumper" and he gets a lot of ribbing from his pals, so he's not entirely sure if she's dating material. And then there's Jonathan, who's having a secret, lurid sex affair with a teacher but wants to escape "being trapped in a porn movie" so he can live like a normal teen. The problems and dramatic plot developments don't stop there, but Burgess handles it all with a literary finesse and downright honesty that readers will admire. Despite whatever views audiences may hold about the book's subject matter, the author's characters are spot-on portrayals of many girls and guys, making sure to address all the right emotions and attitudes while keeping the story line moving at an absorbing, page-turning clip. Ripe for Confessions of Georgia Nicolson fans -- and anyone looking for a howlingly bawdy read -- Burgess's book is provocative YA lit at its best. Matt Warner
Publishers Weekly
In a starred review, PW said, "The abundant use of British slang-especially for matters sexual-gives the story an exotic, slightly Austin Powers-like charm." Ages 16-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA
With this book, Burgess demonstrates that he has not forgotten what it is like to be a teenage boy. The story opens on three friends—Ben, Dino, and Jonathon—as they play a game of lesser evils involving prospective lovers, for example, such as choosing between Margaret Thatcher and an elderly teacher at their school. The perspective switches among characters as each experiences sex with members of an equally lively cast of girls. Burgess uses the individual story lines to introduce issues in each of their lives: physical insecurity, family problems, and societal taboos. Along the way, there is enough groping in the bushes to keep readers, especially boys, engaged. For an American audience, the British-isms probably trade edginess for charm. The novel likely comes across more vulgarly in the author's homeland. Parts of the book are laugh-out-loud funny, and others are a painful yet empathetic reminder of teenage life. Burgess likes his characters, and with this book, it becomes clear that he is also a friend to women, who are alternately appreciated for their good sense, for their bodies, and for simply existing. The boys learn about good relationships both among themselves and with the girls, work through their problems, and accomplish it all without becoming predictable in this new young adult masterpiece. VOYA Codes 4Q 5P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Henry Holt, 336p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Jenny Ingram
Children's Literature
It might be a cliche that the only thing that adolescent boys think about is sex. But not according to this rolling, romping, erotically charged novel. The story revolves around three British teens and their worrisome sexual adventures. Jonathon wrestles with his conscience and frets over his reputation when he is spied "snogging"—making out with—a heavyset girl. Ben is living many a lad's teenage fantasy: He is being bedded by his teacher. Yet all Ben can think about are the regular teenage events he is missing: dating, dances, etc. Finally there is the vain Dino. Dino is "It," the coolest, most handsome boy at school. "If there was a higher number than one," Dino thinks to himself. "It'd be called Dino." Dino meets his perfect match in Jackie, beautiful, popular, and just as lacking in the humility department as Dino. But can a guy like Dino restrain himself to just one girl? Meanwhile, Dino comes upon his mother in a compromising position with a man not his father. That's just the first crumbling block as Dino's world comes crashing down. There are some very funny scenes in this occasionally vulgar, unusually frank novel and its description of sex and sexual acts. It's difficult to imagine this book inhabiting shelves at the school library without stirring controversy. But one can easily imagine it being passed around clandestinely among students, boys and girls alike. 2003, Henry Holt, Ages 14 up.
—Christopher Moning
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up-Three teenaged boys enjoy talking about, thinking about, and joking about sex. Dino finally establishes a relationship with Jackie, the prettiest girl in school, who will allow all sorts of sexual liberties, but draws the line at intercourse. He finds another girl whom he mistakenly thinks he can use for sex while keeping his relationship with Jackie viable. In the meantime, he witnesses his mother passionately involved with a man who is not his father, and must deal with the results of his own treacherous behavior as he watches his parents' marriage fall apart. Ben finds himself steeped in a dilemma of a different sort. His 20-something drama teacher chooses him to be her secret sexual playmate, which he first enjoys but then desperately tries to escape. Jonathon's predicament involves his budding romance with Deborah, an overweight girl whom everyone likes as a friend, but not a girlfriend. He has to decide whether to follow his heart, despite taunting from his peers. Burgess's novel, which retains its original British terminology and sexual slang, is crude, irreverent, and explicit, yet honest and frequently funny. At first, the sexual elements are uncomfortably overwhelming, but Burgess gradually twists the story so that the characters' personal situations become prominent, with casual sex secondary. The seemingly callous male characters become more sympathetic as their personalities, feelings, and problems are unveiled. The female characters are not afforded the same sensitivity. Readers may be drawn in by the intense sexual tone, and find a well-developed story that will spark reflection on the meaning and strength of peer and romantic relationships.-Diane P. Tuccillo, City of Mesa Library, AZ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A trio of British teens fantasize, agonize, masturbate, grope, kiss, feel up, and shag their way through one seemingly endless school year in which traditional teen-novel concerns are entirely thrown over for sex. Dino unrequitedly pursues the gorgeous Jackie and simultaneously grapples with his mother's affair; Jon overcomes his worries about image to fall hard for the chubby-but-likable Deborah; and, in the most provocative subplot, Ben desperately works to extricate himself from a liaison with a beautiful but predatory teacher. Hilarity (cleaning up after a weekend party) alternates with bittersweet (the end of Dino's parents' marriage), and all three boys end the year wiser, if not necessarily better. Although this offering is being piously marketed at "Ages 16 up," if kids can get their hands on it, it will do for this generation what Forever did for kids some 30 years ago (there's even a Mr. Knobby Knobster to replace ol' Ralph). The third-person limited perspective develops voice by shifting from boy to boy, going into graphic, slang-filled detail about the various bodily functions involved. In between these moments (and there are too many to effectively dog-ear only the good bits), the narrative frequently achieves moments of fine writing, character development, etc., but that's hardly the point, is it? The point is that this, like sex, is all about good dirty fun. (Fiction. 12+)
From the Publisher
“What’s invaluable is the sneak peek we get into how guys’ self-obsessed minds work. (And thankfully—beneath the smut—they actually do have feelings.)”—Seventeen

 

“The funniest young adult book I’ve read in a long time. Fresh, honest, and totally hilarious.”—Alloy.com

“As a card-carrying boy, I appreciate the male P.O.V. of this novel, so kudos to Burgess for exploring a sensitive subject in an honest way.”—Elle Girl

"Fun, peppy and unusually frank . . . Readers of both sexes whose hormones have just begun to simmer will welcome a book that so accurately mirrors their new worldview."—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9783551581310
  • Publisher: Carlsen Verlag GmbH
  • Publication date: 9/28/2005
  • Language: German
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Melvin Burgess is the author of many novels for young adult and middle-grade readers. Among them are Nicholas Dane, The Ghost Behind the Wall (Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year), and Smack (winner of Britain’s Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize for Fiction, as well as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults). In 2001, he wrote the novelization of the film, Billy Elliot. Mr. Burgess lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, in England.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 36
Jonathon

Someone was telling me this stuff the other day. It's a secret, I can't tell you. I guess I've got a reputation as a big mouth -- in fact I know I have because this person was reluctant to tell me this stuff for that very reason. So I promised, and I won't even write it down, but it was just about the biggest secret you can imagine. And it was from someone who I'd never have guessed was under such a strain. Just like me, except that for this guy, there's no way out. We sat down and tried to sort it out for ages, but there's just no way. The -- this woman -- she's got him right by the knackers and you just know she'll never let go until she finds another pair to hold on to. God! Poor, lucky bastard.

It makes you realize. Everyone's got their troubles. This secret -- I mean! That's real trouble. And Dino, too. I've been so crushed by this thing, I'd really started to believe I was going to have to die or spend the rest of my life in a state of misery, but it's not really true. I mean, Jackie's definitely not ever going to go out with him again. His parents really are going to separate. He can't change any of that. And this friend of mine is totally stuffed too, but I can do something for myself, however embarrassing it is. I can go to the doctor. The doctor will say, Fine, nope, nothing wrong -- and I'll be OK. I have to do it. I just have to be prepared to get embarrassed.

This friend of mine. This problem he's got! Wow! You should hear about that. I could not believe my ears. I thought I had problems. I tell you, compared to what he has going on, imaginary cancer of the knob is nothing. I mean nothing. And it proves one thing. Sex is trouble. My mum always says, Sex rears its ugly head. Which I always supposed meant that she thought knobs are ugly, but perhaps she just means trouble.

I can't tell you. Really, it's impossible. It's not just being discreet, it's really serious stuff. Honestly, I can't say a word. It was so awful I got over excited and started jumping around the place and Ben had to make me sit down and think about it. All I wanted to ask him was about what she -- this woman he's got himself around with -- how it started and what they did, you know? And how on earth he can do anything about that, I do not know. All he can do is ride it out. But I was really flattered, you know -- that he'd spoken to me. He must have thought I was worth telling. He could have told any number of people. He's a popular guy with the girls and the boys. I'm just a gob, really, but he chose to tell me. It made me think, maybe I'm not so useless after all. Maybe I even helped.

The funny thing about it was, all the stuff I was saying to him, all the advice, could have been applied to me. Like, "You need help." I said that to him. "You have to tell someone who can do something about it." See? If I'd had the courage to tell him what I was suffering from, he'd have said just the same back.

But I didn't. He can, I can't. Apart from anything else, I suppose, he's got a real problem while mine's just a joke.

I dunno. Maybe I shouldn't go to the doctor. Maybe I should tell this friend. But -- it really is too embarrassing. I mean, his problem, it's awful but it's cool. Mine's just crap.

Who else could I tell? My mother?

"I'm worried about my penis, Mother. It's all lumpy."

"Ah, poor dear. Let Mummy have a look at it. There, we'll just put a plaster on that. There! Good as new. Now, go out and stick it in a nice girl like a good boy."

No way! My dad? We'd both sit there in a silent rictus of embarrassment until I got up and left and the matter would never be referred to again as long as we both shall live.

Maybe I should tell Debs...but I know what she'd tell me to do, so I might as well do it anyway.

Doctor.

Fuck it. I just wish so much I didn't have to do this. It's so horrible -- but the alternatives are so much worse. It'll be utterly unbearable, utterly horrible, utterly unpleasant but -- but at the end when it's all over, I'll still be here, won't I? Oh, OK, the doctor might say it is knob cancer -- only he won't, will he? I know he won't. This is juju to make the fear go away. But it's going to work, because -- well. Because I believe in doctors, I suppose.

What's actually going to happen is this. I'm going to get a new knob and be very, very, very happy.

I'm going to tell you this as quickly as possible because it was the most painful experience of my life. I can't bear to think about it, hardly. The suffering was so intense, I'm not sure that I survived intact psychologically. I may be scarred for life.

I didn't get an appointment for starters. The earliest proper appointment was the next week -- too late. So I went down for the emergency appointments at five o'clock. I got there early to get it over with and sat there for hours and hours and hours waiting for my name to come up, scared silly that the doctor would throw me out for wasting emergency time with a neurotic knob. Well, listen -- it was an emergency for me, OK? For all I knew, in the next hour or so I might be facing life with no knob, or certain death or years of chemo and surgery and radio and...

Or a new knob. If it was just a vein and I was -- please God -- just mad and not cancerous. But that was the last thing on my mind at the time. I just kept praying that the doctor would be the kind of person who'd not mind you showing them your knob, without actually liking it.

They called my name. I walked in and there was the worst of all possible worlds. A young female doctor. Very attractive. Short skirt. Legs. It was so awful. As soon as I went in I froze. I couldn't say a word. I could see it all. She'd think I was a pervert. Even if she did agree to look at it, it'd probably get stiff while she was examining it. They'd be ringing around to see how many other surgeries I'd gone into to have my knob checked out. Prison, untreated cancer, amputation, death. Or possibly even just death there and then, because I was gasping for breath, my heart was cramping. I was going to choke to death on my own embarrassment.

"Hello, Jonathon. Sit down. What seems to be the problem?"

I stood there shivering. "I have a problem," I gurgled.

"That's why most people come to see us," she smiled. "What's yours?"

I stared at her in terror. Was she taking the piss? Did she know? What the fuck did she mean by that "What's yours?" It was so...so informal. What's your poison? What do you fancy? How would you like me -- over the desk, on the carpet? Please, please, don't let her try to seduce me!

"I...I have this lump. Well, this bump."

"Whereabouts?"

"On. On. In." I said. I just couldn't utter a word. I half stood up and looked at the door.

"Jonathon?" I made a little movement to go, but I'd frozen to the spot. She cocked her head sympathetically to one side. "People come in here with all sorts of problems. I bet I've come across yours before. You'd be surprised." She smiled at me and opened her palm towards the chair. "Sit down. I'd tell you some of them, but what's said in this room is completely confidential.You should remember that. Nothing that gets said in here goes outside these four walls."

I made a noise like a rat being grated alive.

"Please," she said.

I followed her hand and sat down. She smiled.

"Something embarrassing?"

"Ah," I croaked. I was trying to think of some other ailment I could lay claim to. The pox? Testicular gangrene? Anything but this!

"It's very brave of you to come to talk to me about it. Some people go through years of agony just because of embarrassment. But embarrassment can't hurt you: untreated problems can."

"Ah," I gasped. So! I did have cancer!

"Is it in a private place?"

"Um," I agreed.

"Testicles?"

"Nun."

"Good." She waited a bit but I couldn't speak. "Well," she went on. "That leaves only two other areas, doesn't it? But down below?"

I nodded but my mind was going bonkers. Two other places? I couldn't work it out for a minute, but then it occurred to me; she thought I might have cancer of the arse as well! Did that mean she'd want to get up there too? My God! That would be even more embarrassing! Just seconds before I'd been unable to imagine anything more embarrassing than showing her my willy and now she'd found one within minutes of my coming in to see her. What next?

"At your age I'd say it's most likely to be your penis. Correct?"

"Ah. Ahes," I said.

She nodded. "Where is this lump, on the shaft of your penis, or the head?"

"Jjj. Shi."

"The shaft. OK, if you'd just go to the couch over there and take your pants down, I'll have a look for you."

This was it. Pants down! Mortified! I went to the couch. She was over by the work surface putting on the plastic gloves. Plastic gloves? I'd washed it. My knob is spotless. Or was this for the arse examination?

I got my jeans down but I couldn't do the final thing. She came and stood by me. "Come on then, I don't want to take them down myself."

Like a little boy I jerked to attention and pulled them down. Out came the meat and two veg. Poor Mr Knobby!

"Right," I said. "Here's the lump just on this side I know it isn't very big now but it gets a lot bigger and and and and and harder when I've got annnnurrrection."

"Yes, I see." She prodded it with a finger and stood up. "That's a vein," she said. "Perfectly normal. Penises are very veiny things. This particular vein happens to be close to the surface, that's all. It means you've got a good blood supply."

"So it's all right then?" I said.

"Perfectly normal." She'd pulled the gloves off and went to the sink to wash her hands.What did she think she was handling? She needed to wash after the plastic gloves? Were knob germs that deadly?

"So it's all right, then?" I asked again. I wanted to make absolutely sure, no mistake. I didn't want to have to go through this again.

"Perfectly fine. The thing about these sorts of things," she said, washing her hands and looking over to me, "is not to worry about them."

"Yes. Yes. Right. I see, exactly, sometimes they just get a bit on top of you, I just wanted to get it cleared up. Exactly," I said. "Thank you very much. Goodbye."

I ran out of the door. Just before I closed it behind me she said, "Enjoy," in a soft voice. As if she'd just given me something to eat.

On the way home I was dying, just dying. How had I ever managed to do that? It was awful, awful, awful. The hardest thing I'd ever done in my whole life. It wasn't until I was about halfway back, that I started thinking, Yes, that was very hard, very very very hard. And stupid and horrible. But now, my boy, you have a brand new knob. Thing is, to go and try it out.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Melvin Burgess

Although your novel has received much acclaim, there are reviewers who have felt that it is inappropriate. What is it in your opinion about teenage sexuality that scares adults so much more than drugs or violence?

MB: I've written books with violence, drugs, and sex in them, and people seem much more anxious about sex than anything else, which is just amazing. How can something so nice generate such fear? Teenage sexuality ties in with our whole modern fear of sex and children. Teenagers are like children who suddenly develop an intense interest in sex -- very disturbing to a society that still seems to regard sex as being something that is suitable only for responsible, very grown-up people who are able to keep their instincts under control. In other words, sex is only suitable for people who aren't sexy. All very strange when you consider how much sexual activity has to do with play. I think that when you get old enough to have all your hormones, sex is one of the nicest things that will ever happen to you. It feels nice, it makes you feel good: in time it will lead to the most important relationships in your life. When you're young, you want to do it with friends rather than form deep, meaningful relationships. Obviously, people need to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves, but apart from that I think they should be encouraged.

Are you trying to impart a message to your readers or to society through the writing of this book?

MB: No message. I just think that teenage boys in particular are regarded with great suspicion and sexually are treated as if they are some sort of beasts. Boy/girl books are always for girls, and this is certainly not because boys aren't interested. What is it about young male sexuality that is so unacceptable that no one writes about it? I wanted to write something true to life which shows that you can be sexy, crude, funny, disgusting, and lovable and sweet all in one go -- like most of us are.

What kinds of reactions have you had from teenagers who have read the book thus far?

MB: Various. Teenagers are as wide a group as any. Some are very prudish about it and find it too much; others have adored it. There's been a certain sense of relief that this sort of thing can be written about. I suppose the sort of humor -- smut, basically -- in the book is something you either enjoy or you don't. But those who do enjoy it seem to get a great deal out of the book.

Do you think that your book will help to expand the category of what is considered "acceptable" literature for teens and young readers?

MB: I would hope it would make people a little easier about sexuality. Sexuality is a complex thing, full of contradictions. Who would have thought that the organ of love should be the same one you pee with? Someone up there certainly has a sense of humor -- sex is funny as well as loving and passionate and, of course, very rude. All this is here to be enjoyed.

Did you have a particular audience in mind when you decided to create this novel?

MB: Well, I suppose it's written specifically for teenagers, although I know a lot of adults who really enjoyed the nostalgia trip. A lot of us tend to write off that time of life, or dismiss it as being confused and difficult. Writing the book, I was reminded of how nice a lot of it was as well. I wrote Doing It because I do believe that we have let young men down very badly in terms of the kinds of books written for them. This book is my go at trying to bring young male sexual culture into writing.

What value do you think a book like this has for its readers?

MB: A book is nothing if it fails to entertain. I would hope that it does this on various levels -- emotionally, intellectually, as well as humorously. And I would hope that for some people, it would be a confirmation that, contrary to what a lot of people say, you can express your sexuality and still be a perfectly nice person.

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