I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing this book was. It was just so incredible; so powerful and unbelievably moving. Once I finished, I had to go up to my room just to sort my head out and have a bit of a cry, because I couldn’t help but get so wrapped up in Marsha’s story. This book is just... wow. I’m a bit lost for words, and can’t describe just how good it is.
At first, I didn’t like Marsha much, or her friend Faith – in fact, I can’t stand Faith. I didn’t like Marsha's complete lack of caring or thought about what she did. It didn’t faze her, she didn’t even think about it, she just did. Well, she had to, didn’t she? She couldn’t let Faith beat her when it came to how many people she’d slept with, could she? It was disturbing, and made me feel quite sick, this complete lack of respect for herself.
Then new girl Beth arrives at the school, and she’s shy and reserved and asks Marsha and Faith if she can hang out with them, not knowing about their lifestyles. How Faith treats her in the beginning is just disgusting, and Marsha trying to turn her into a mini-me, when Beth is so naive and innocent, was just awful to watch. Sorry, read. As the story progressed though, they got to know each other a bit better; Beth still tried to fit in, and Marsha seemed to feel a bit sorry for her, and came to like her. It was great to see this surprising friendship grow, and how they helped each other in some ways.
Beneath the surface, though, you discover Marsha has some serious issues. I can’t really go into it much without spoiling the story, but you come to understand Marsha’s way of life, and sympathise. The only one who can help her figure things out is Rich; sweet, caring, shy, adorable Rich, the only one who can really get where she’s coming from.
Joanna Kenrick deals with the sex scenes in this novel in a great way. The novel is entirely first person from Marsha’s point of view, until it gets to the sex scenes. They have their own italicised paragraph in third person. Kenrick separates the sex scenes from the rest of the novel, a style device used to show Marsha separating herself from what’s happening. When she’s having sex, Marsha isn’t really there; it’s happening to her, but she’s kind of numb, looking about and thinking of other things. She disconnects herself from what’s happening.
The scenes aren’t overly detailed, either. They are quite graphic, but so emotionless that the acts don’t seem that bad. It’s pretty much “He does this. She does that. Then he says this. He moans, and it’s done.” You don’t get much insight into what’s going on inside Marsha’s head at these points, because more often than not, nothing is. Names are never mentioned, nor are speech marks. In some of the earlier scenes, proper punctuation is left out. It’s almost like it’s not real, or it’s a dream. It’s such a fantastic way of understanding Marsha better, her way of coping with things.
The topic of virginity and first time sex is covered through Marsha’s conversations with Beth. When Beth gets a boyfriend, she starts worrying about having sex with him, and asks Marsha to talk to her about her own first time. Although Marsha tries to make it clear to Beth that it’s her own choice to sleep with her boyfriend or not, she’s not completely truthful about her own experience, she gets too frustrated with Beth and her opinion that Beth should sleep with him comes through. There’s a bit of peer pressure too in that Marsha and Faith laugh at Beth’s complete innocence, and Beth feels she needs to be more like them.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases are also covered in Screwed, and it is dealt with by Kenrick brilliantly, through Marsha’s worry when Faith tells her that she caught something off a boy they both slept with.
“Of course I knew about sexually transmitted diseases – well, sort of. I knew there were things you could catch from having sex, like AIDS, but I never really thought it could be applied to me. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could actually catch something from the boys I slept with.”We get to see Marsha go to the doctors and see a nurse, and read the actual conversation they have, which I think is just brilliant. We don’t see Marsha having a swab taken, but she talks about it afterwards, and it’s all explained and easy to understand. I really think this is just superb, as I think it could really hit home to some teenage readers that it can happen to anyone, and it’s helpful to show what would happen when at the doctors.
Overall, Screwed was such a fantastic and heartbreaking novel that is about so much more than just casual sex. The only thing I didn't like about it was that it ended. It was brilliant, and I would recommend it to everyone. It might have just become one of my favourite novels.
As a reader: My favourite thing about this book was the focus on the girls and their emotions, and I found all the characters three-dimensional, the boys as well as the girls.
As a parent: I absolutely love the way this book didn't moralise, but told a story that focuses on the problems of low self-esteem and peer pressure. It was explicit but never gratuitous. Everyone should read it.
As a writer: I admired the sparky and authentic dialogue.
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A Favour to Ask:
When emailing Joanna about the interview for Screwed, she told me how Screwed has gone under the radar as some adults, such as librarians, won't buy it because of the cover and the title. I feel this is such an important book, one all teenagers should read, and should be compulsory reading in PHSE lessons (in the UK), as I think it would really effect teenagers in a way Sex Ed doesn't - yet people aren't buying it. This book only came out last year, and Joanna thinks Screwed will go out of print soon. This book is far too important to just slip by, so I'm urging all YA book reviewers out there to please, please get a hold of this book, review it, and get more exposure for it. I've enquired about if there's anything that can be done, but other than us reviewing it and letting people know about it, there isn't anything. So please, give this book a try, it really needs some help, and it looks like Joanna is fighting a losing battle.