Night Owls by Jenn Bennett (eProof) - Feeling alive is always worth the risk.
Meeting Jack on the Owl—San Francisco's night bus—turns Beatrix's world upside down. Jack is charming, wildly attractive...and possibly one of San Francisco's most notorious graffiti artists.
But Jack is hiding a piece of himself. On midnight rides and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who this enigmatic boy really is. From Goodreads.
Look at that cover! The cover is what drew me to Night Owls by Jenn Bennett when I first heard about it, though the description didn't do as much for me. I liked the sound of the romance, but not the graffiti or what sounded to me like a possible dangerous side to Jack. Then I read Cait of Paper Fury's rave review, and I was sold. I shouldn't have doubted, this book is amazing!
Beatrix is an artist, an artist whose interest lies in anatomy. Her dream is to become a medical artist, creating the diagrams of the organs of the body for medical textbooks. It's after a meeting that doesn't happen with a doctor from the hospital about being able to sketch the dissected cadavers that she meets Jack. Jack is charismatic and unbelievably good looking, and the attraction between him and Bex is immediate. Jack can't seem to stay away from her, but when Bex figures out he's the wanted felon that's been spraying gold graffiti across the city, she wonders if she really wants to get mixed up with a criminal. But there's more to Jack and his art than just vandalism. He has a past he's been affected by, and Bex might just be the only one who can bring joy back to his life.
Night Owls - or The Anatomical Shape of a Heart as it's called in the US - is such an incredible story! The chemistry between Bex and Jack is electric, and their flirting is full of sexual tension. There's a lot of back and forth between the two, but their relationship is a slow burner. Despite all the flirting and the chemistry, it's a while before anything happens between the two of them. Not only is the anticipation wonderful, but it also gives the two a chance to get to know each other. Too often I read about characters who are suddenly in love without there seeming to be anything for them to base their feelings on, but that's not the case with Bex and Jack. Their attraction leads to a friendship with the possibility of more, and it's during that time, as they learn about who the other is, that their feelings develop, and it's really quite beautiful.
I have to say I think I know more about Jack than I do about Bex, and Bex narrates the story. Other than her love of anatomical art - which was so awesome to read about, so different! - and her love of putting her hair in various kinds of plaits, I don't know much else. I know about her living arrangements, her family, her past, but not much about her as a person. But Jack! He's such an amazing guy, with his retro-rockabilly style, his confidence, the cockiness he puts on for a joke, and his honesty and openness. Oh, I loved him! The love between the two feels like genuine, real love. Jack does have penchant for making slightly cheesy declarations, but he actually means them, and is so genuine in that moment, you almost don't notice the cheese! It's so heartwarming! And he is just adorable! And despite not knowing much about Bex, we know an awful lot about how she feels for Jack, and the two of them together are just perfect, that I can overlook it.
Night Owls is very sex positive. With the flirting and the sexual tension, you might think there would be more sex in the book than there is. But even so, what we do see is wonderful. Firstly, there's a friend of Jack's, Sierra, who is perfectly happy to have no strings sex with who she chooses. There is a little sex-shaming for it from some of the other girls in the books, and although it's obviously not great to read, it's mostly because she's having sex with the guys they like, rather than because they don't think what she's doing is right. But Sierra is completely happy with what she's doing and has no problem. She's a minor character, so I'm not entirely sure if she knows what the girls say about her, but she comes across as someone who wouldn't care anyway. She's had some problems in her life, and there's the hint that her sexuality is because of that, but again, I don't think so. Sierra doesn't seem to me to be after attention and this is the only way she knows how. To me, it more seems like she enjoys sex and is happy to have it with who she likes if they want to, too. The inclusion of her character was to create some minor conflict, but I think she's a wonderful example of a girl owning her sexuality. She's brilliant.
Then there's Jack and Bex. I have read quite a number of YA novels that have been quite candid about sex, but I think Night Owls might be the first one where the characters have a conversation about it. Jack basically says, "Let's sit down and talk about sex." He's serious, and he's grown up about it. He has his reasons, but I just think it's so responsible of him even without those reasons. It's not so much a conversation about contraception - though talk of condoms does come up in the book a few times - but more about enjoyment. A "What does and doesn't work for you?" conversation. Jack is not a guy who wants to go in blind and hope for the best, he wants to make sure his girl will enjoy herself just as much as him. I really, really like this guy! And when it comes to them actually having sex, it's not completely perfect. There are awkward moments, things they find don't quite work, and experimentation. For them, it's not just about their own orgasm, but about the other person too - they're having sex together, with each other. Maybe there are some blips and some missteps, but they're not selfish. And this is so wonderful to see!
As well as being a book about romance, about art, and one that's sex positive, it's also diverse. There are also characters in this book who are gay or have mental illnesses. Although Night Owls isn't necessarily strictly about being gay or having a mental illness, these aren't tiny parts of the story, as they're not tiny parts of the characters. The focus is on Bex and Jack, but these other characters get their chance in the spotlight too. I don't want to say too much because of spoilers, but I love what Night Owls does for these characters, and for diversity.
Night Owls is quite simply just a wonderful novel! I absolutely loved it, and I know I'll be recommending it to everyone. I am really, really looking forward to reading more by Bennett in the future, because Night Owls is just gem of a book!
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof.
Published: 13th August 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Book
Jenn Bennett's Website