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Lust, Desire, Fantasy, Obsession, Love
In one outstanding volume, ten of today's finest authors of adult and young-adult literature lend teir talent and their vioces to take a hard, clear look at love and sexuality. From balancing abstinence and desire, to learning the difference between love and lust, to fulfilling a childhood obsession, each of these stories depicts characters exploring a world of new feelings and sensations that is opening up before them. At times magical, ...
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Lust, Desire, Fantasy, Obsession, Love
In one outstanding volume, ten of today's finest authors of adult and young-adult literature lend teir talent and their vioces to take a hard, clear look at love and sexuality. From balancing abstinence and desire, to learning the difference between love and lust, to fulfilling a childhood obsession, each of these stories depicts characters exploring a world of new feelings and sensations that is opening up before them. At times magical, funny, sad, and angry — but always heartbraakingly honest — these stories reveal the pressures and complications — and sometimes joy — of love and sex.
Laurie Halse Anderson "Snake"
Joan Bauer "Extra Virgin"
Emma Donoghue "The Welcome"
Louise Hawes "Fine and Dandy"
Angela Johnson "Watcher"
Michael Lowenthal "The Acuteness of Desire"
Chris Lynch "The Cure of Curtis"
GarhtNix "Lightning Bringer"
Sonya Sones "Secret Shelf"
Shelley Steohr "Troll Bumps"
by Michael Cart
More than thirty years ago a pioneering young adult librarian named Margaret A. Edwards protested that "many adults seem to think that if sex is not mentioned to adolescents, it will go away."
As succeeding decades have demonstrated, silence is no arbiter of behavior. Not only has sex not gone away, it has become a quintessential -- perhaps even obligatory? -- rite of passage for adolescents; 75 percent of young Americans now experience sex by the age of twenty. As for silence, it became a graver issue in the 1980s with the advent of AIDS and the realization that sometimes silence equals death. And yet it is still true, as Edwards further noted in 1969, that "too many adults wish to 'protect' teenagers when they should be stimulating them to read of life as it is lived."
Perhaps that is why there are still too few works of fiction for young adults that deal artfully yet honestly with the complexities of human sexuality and how they affect "life as it is lived."
I didn't discover Edwards's words until the mid-1990s, when I was doing research for a critical history of young adult literature. As I went on to do more research, I discovered that Edwards's words had stuck in my subconscious mind like a nagging grain of sand and weregradually turning into the pearl of an idea: Why not do a book about this?
The idea might never have become reality, however, had it not been for the fact that in 1995 I saw a movie titled Kids. It is photographer Larry Clark's lacerating directorial debut and features a screenplay by Harmony Korine, who was himself a kid, only nineteen years old at the time. The movie takes us inside the lives of a group of New York City teenagers who are sexually active -- hyperactive, some might say. Clark's film has the cinema-verite look of in-your-face truth. But is it?
Frankly, I didn't want to think so. For these teens seemed to be trying to fill up the emptiness of their alienated lives with sex. Lots of sex. But in their version the mechanical act was everything; their sex was filled with impersonality, leaving no room for intimacy. It was not about sharing, it was about self-satisfaction, about conquest, about implied violence directed at the partner. There was absolutely no demonstration of caring, no evidence of engagement, no evidence of, well, love.
For an incurable romantic like myself, watching this film was a cold-shower experience. Did what I was seeing on the screen represent the real life of real teens, I wondered? Was this how their life was really lived today? Again, I didn't want to think so. And so I've done a lot of reading since then in search of answers and have discovered there is no shortage of empirical data about adolescent sexuality, but data, too, is soulless, heartless, and -- here's that word again -- loveless. The more I thought about the subject, the more I found myself wondering about the equation between sex and love in adolescent life and coming up with more questions than answers.
And so I turned to art, since I am a great believer in finding answers there -- and not only answers but wisdom; wisdom to inform both the mind and the heart. My idea for a book finally turned into an invitation to ten wonderfully artful writers to create stories that address, in all their complexities, the interrelationships of love and sex.
In the collection that has resulted you will find stories about abstinence and obsession, about heterosexuality and homosexuality, about gender and transgender, about confusion and certainty, about fantasy and reality, about hurt and healing. And you will discover that the writers have approached their themes with gravity and grit, with humor and heart, with poetry, art, and -- always -- truth.
Joan Bauer, for example, wrote "Extra Virgin," a tender, funny story about an eighteen-year-old girl whose commitment to abstinence is tested when the man of her dreams walks into her life and whispers, "I want you so much." What choice will she make then?
In "Fine and Dandy" Louise Hawes also tells a story about choice and how one decision involving sex may lead to another, more difficult one, and how such domino-tumbling decisions change us -- and others whose lives touch ours -- in profound, sometimes heartbreaking ways.
Australian author Garth Nix recounts a story that at first seems quite different, a richly imagined fantasy about a strange man called the Lightning Bringer. And yet this story about sexual power also involves a choice that dramatically demonstrates how a boy's decision about his own surprising abilities will change his very real life.
Sonya Sones, whose first book, Stop Pretending, was a novel in verse, now gives us a short story in verse. Each poem in "Secret Shelf," her story-suite of verses, marks another step in Sophie's journey to emotional coming-of-age. Some of these verse-steps are sweet, some are passionate, and some are surprising, as Sophie discovers certain differences between lust and love.
Laurie Halse Anderson's "Snake" is a witty story about two teenagers who, on their first date, are surprised by temptation at California's Venice Beach and find themselves literally wading into an ocean of desire.
In "The Cure for Curtis" Chris Lynch writes an antic, amusing story about lust, love, and confusion as a teenage boy named Curtis desperately, turbulently tries to come to terms with his secret dreams -- and his ideas about sexual identity.
"The Acuteness of Desire," by Michael Lowenthal, is also about sexual identity, a heart-touching story about a gay teen named Jesse who loves the precision, the absoluteness of geometry but who discovers, when he is assigned to tutor Matt, that love is messier and far less precise than mathematics.
Shelley Stoehr's "Troll Bumps" is not about mathematics but about music and a girl named Grace who is on the road, traveling across the country in pursuit of her musician boyfriend. How will her quest change her as she learns that love is sometimes like a song obsessively heard one too many times?
In "Watcher" novelist Angela Johnson also writes a haunting, dreamlike story about a search for love that takes two teenagers to the border of obsession.
And Irish writer Emma Donoghue writes in "The Welcome" a sometimes serious, sometimes satirical story that is also, in part, about obsession, as a young woman becomes fascinated with another young woman who has just moved into their cooperative house. But it is also a searching story about the walls of sexual identity that impose barriers between us.
So here, then, are ten very different stories. Indeed, their differences dramatize how varied and complex the intersections of love and sex are. But the stories also have something in common: a courageous, nonjudgmental commitment to telling the truth. Of course, sometimes the truth makes us uncomfortable, especially when it involves something as personal as sex -- or love.
But, like Margaret A. Edwards, I think it is important to read of "life as it is lived." And so I urgently hope these stories will be read with open minds and hearts, and that they will then spark thoughtful and open discussion about "life as it is lived." Because that is how books -- like this one -- can change and even save lives. That is how wisdom begins.
In the meantime, as these stories clearly demonstrate, sex is not going away -- but, then, neither is love.
A portion of the money generated from the sale of this book will be donated to the American Library Association's Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) for the promotion of books recommended by YALSA and of teen reading, including their national Teen Read Week.
Excerpted from Love & Sex by Michael Cart Copyright © 2003 by Michael Cart. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 23, 2002
Posted July 13, 2001