Friday 13 November 2015

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Review: Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

Cut Both Ways by Carrie MesrobianCut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian (review copy) - Will Caynes never has been good with girls. At seventeen, he’s still waiting for his first kiss. He’s certainly not expecting it to happen in a drunken make-out session with his best friend, Angus. But it does and now Will’s conflicted—he knows he likes girls, but he didn’t exactly hate kissing a guy.

Then Will meets Brandy, a cute and easy-to-talk-to sophomore. He’s totally into her too—which proves, for sure, that he’s not gay. So why does he keep hooking up with Angus on the sly?

Will knows he can’t keep seeing both of them, but besides his new job in a diner, being with Brandy and Angus are the best parts of his whole messed-up life. His divorced parents just complicate everything. His father, after many half-baked business ventures and endless house renovations, has started drinking again. And his mom is no help—unless loading him up with a bunch of stuff he doesn’t need plus sticking him with his twin half-sisters counts as parenting. He’s been bouncing between both of them for years, and neither one feels like home.

Deciding who to love, who to choose, where to live. Whichever way Will goes, someone will get hurt. Himself, probably the most.
From Goodreads.

WARNING! There are slight spoilers in this review, please read no further if you've yet to read the book and don't want it spoilt for you.

Having loved Sex and Violence, I was really excited when I heard Carrie Mesrobian was writing and LGBTQ YA novel. When I read in Cynthia of Afterwritten's review that there was a fair amount of sexual content in Cut Both Ways too, I was thrilled that I'd be able to read it for Sex in Teen Lit Month II. Despite Cynthia's review I read being negative and being a little worried about my enjoyment, I loved Cut Both Ways!

Will finds himself confused about his sexuality when he kisses his best mate, Angus, during a drunken night. Though he's never had much luck, he's always liked girls, so suddenly realising that he enjoyed kissing Angus is a shock. Is he gay? How can he be gay when he likes girls? Which is proven when he starts dating a hot girl from school he's really into, Brandy. Even so, Will finds he can't keep away from Angus. He knows he needs to stop cheating, but he doesn't want to give up either; both give him something, and he needs all the good he can get as his life is turned upside down. His parents are divorced and haven't got on since they split up. There seems to be a tug of war between them, and a constant digs at the other. Going from his mum's to his dad's is a pain, especially as his dad is renovating their house, but never seeming to get much done and drinking a lot more than he should. As things spiral out of control, Angus and Brandy are the only things keeping him going, along with his job in a diner, and he doesn't know what to do, who to choose.

I really, really enjoyed this book! When it comes to sexuality, Cut Both Ways looks at the confusion when you don't actually know who you are. Will doesn't understand his sexuality, what his sexual identity is. It's like there's an either/or - straight or gay - to him, but not both, and he's confused. As problematic as some people might find it, I found Will's confusion really fascinating as he tries to work things out. He knows he's not gay, because he's always fancied girls, but doesn't understand how he can be attracted to Angus too. Angus, who is openly gay, thinks Will is gay too - despite the fact he knows Will has a girlfriend. Although it's not said, it's like he thinks Will being with Brandy is just a cover up, to hide his sexuality, or for Will to hide from it - '"I wish you were glad you were gay too," he says. "Or just would admit it."' (p316). It seemed a little odd to me that Angus doesn't seem to consider bisexuality/sexual fluidity for Will. Mesrobian wrote an Author's Note on the subject of Will's confusion, and bisexual erasure:
'The word "bisexual" never once appears in the story, and readers may wonder why Will doesn't come to identify himself in this way. That Will doesn't even consider this is an example of "bisexual erasure."
Bisexual erasure is the willful disbelief that people can be attracted to both genders, as well as the tendency to emphasize sexual identities in people that fit the observer's own narrative, e.g. a man who is bisexual is really a gay man in denial; a woman who is bisexual is just doing it for male attention. Bisexual erasure can be perpetuated by gay or straight people. [...]
I don't know what Will's identity is. Even if I did know, I think it's more interesting for the reader to contemplate what he is and what he might be than for me to label with certainty.
What I do know is that we need to work for a world where it is easier for kids like him.' [sic] (p341-342)
There are a number of sex scenes in Cut Both Ways, but they're not gratuitous. There's detail, but a sex scene doesn't last pages and pages; it's half a page up to a page and a half long each time, and it's not written sexily nor clinically, but somewhere in between - it's real. Most of the sex scenes are towards the beginning. For Will with Brandy, most are the various stages of sexual foreplay over time before penetrative sex, and with Angus, there is no penetrative sex. Cut Both Ways is one of those books that has you question what constitutes as "sex". Heterosexual sex is generally considered to be penetrative, everything else being foreplay, but that's not necessarily the case when it comes to homosexual sex, and what I like with Cut Both Ways is that Mesrobian shows this, and even has Will refer to him and Angus touching each other and oral sex as sex. What's fascinating is that Will will receive a "blow job" from Brandy, but will have "sex" with Angus, even though the same act is performed - the only difference being is one or the other returns the favour when it comes to Will and Angus (a fact Will points out, saying he feels sorry for Brandy, because the favour isn't returned. It's almost like with straight foreplay, oral sex stands on it's own, and that can be it, without needing to be returned because it's not sex.).

Cut Both Ways is also the first book I've read that has its characters send each other sexual texts and photos, or take photos together (as opposed to having photos taken before a book starts, as in Deeper by Robin York). I didn't realise when I first started the book how old Brandy is at the beginning, but we find out later, and I was seriously uncomfortable with the idea of a 15-year-old sending such photos. Granted, Will is not the kind of guy who would share them - he actually is offended by the idea, those photos are special, they're his, and he's not showing anyone - and sure, it's something that happens, but it's still something I find really scary. However, as it's something that does happen, I do applaud Mesrobian for having her characters explore this other side to sexuality - had Brandy been a few years older, I don't think I would have had a problem, as there's at least a certain level of trust between the two of them. Though considering the fact that Will is cheating on her, she might be bothered about that trust being broken no matter her age.

When it's discovered that Will is having sex with Brandy by his mum and his dad's friend and his employer, Garrett, the "Be smart" conversation comes up from Garrett, and it takes a really interesting view of things.
'"You know it's not your choice," he says. "Whether you become a father. It's always the girl's choice."
"I mean, you get her pregnant, it's no longer your call what she does with it. She can have an abortion, she can make you a daddy. You have to do the thinking way ahead of time. That's all I'm saying."
"I don't think she wants to make me a daddy. Or anyone else, either, Garrett."
"I get that, Will," he says [...].
"But once you let it loose that way"--he clears his throat again, and I wish I could be buried alive, the embarrassment's so bad--"it's not your decision. It's hers and hers alone. So if you don't want any kids and she does? Or she doesn't go get an abortion in time? Say she waits too long, deciding, and then can't? Well, then, there you go. Now you're someone's dad. Until you die, Until they die."
"Garrett, I don't--"
"That's what I mean," he says. "On the front end. On this side of things--that's where you're thinking's got to be. Not in crisis mode."' (p216)
This is such an interesting conversation, I've never heard the "always use condoms" conversation had this way. But it's something I have thought about myself; I hate that it takes two to create a baby, but, ultimately, the decision is down to the woman. If you're both on the same page, then great; both want to keep the baby, both want to abort it. But if you're on opposite sides, the guy is stuck with whatever the woman decides. I am all about women having the right to do with their body what they will, and if a woman wants an abortion she should have one, but I do find it upsetting that a guy who may want to be a dad won't be if the woman decides to abort, or is made a father because she decides to keep it. In an ideal world, the two would discuss things, and even if they're on opposite sides, they would come to a decision together, but that isn't always the case. I do think women being the only ones who can carry a child is unfair for both genders. Slam by Nick Hornby, which I reviewed for Sex in Teen Lit Month the first time round, is a really great book that looks at what happens when the woman decides to keep the baby the guy doesn't want.

But back to the book. I did really enjoy Cut Both Ways, but I felt let down by the ending. Things get towards a climax, maybe even reach it in some ways, but then it just ends. There's no resolution, not really. Not for Will, not for his family life. I know the book was 340 pages long, but I think if there were even 60 more, just to resolve things, the book wouldn't have been overly long, and there would be more of a conclusion. But still, a really great book, and I'll definitely be reading more of Mesrobian's novels in the future - going to keep my eye out for Perfectly Good White Boy!

Thank you to Carrie Mesrobian for the review copy.

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Published: 1st September 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Carrie Mesrobian's Website


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