Monday, 9 November 2015

Review: Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Shut Out by Kody KeplingerShut Out by Kody Keplinger (review copy) - The girls of Hamilton High School are going on strike.

Sick of the rivalry between their boyfriends' American football and soccer teams, Lissa and her friends are determined that the boys won't see any action from them until they put an end to their immature pranks.

But Lissa hasn't counted on a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first...
From Goodreads

When asking for recommendations to read for Sex in Teen Lit Month II, Shut Out by Kody Keplinger was one of the suggestions that I was told would be perfect for the month. Not only is this true, but it does great things for girls and sexuality.

Lissa is sick of the rivalry between the American football and soccer teams at her school, and how it takes her boyfriend's attention away from her. Not only that, but the pranks are getting violent and people ar egetting hurt. She has decided it must end. With the other girlfriends of the football and soccer players, they go on strike, refusing to have sex or perform any sexual acts with their boyfriends until the rivalry is over. What Lissa didn't expect is or the guys to come up with ideas together about how to seduce them and break the strike before the rivalry ends. It's a battle of the sexes, and it's 50/50 on who will give in first...

Despite the rivalry/strike plot, this book is about so much more than a battle of the sexes. This book is brilliant for one very specific reason: it encourages it's readers to have positive and healthy attitudes towards sex. How? Through the varying experiences of the girls on strike. Shut out touches on a lot of questions that go through teenage girls' minds about sex. I remember when I was a teen and the confusion there was. My friends and I would talk about sex, but we wouldn't talk about it. With peer pressure, there came rules. Certain things are acceptable, and other things are not. But what if your feelings on sex were the other way round? There's also an inequality of attitudes towards girls and sex, and boys and sex. How what's ok for boys isn't for girls. Girls can't be promiscuous where boys can. Yet girls shouldn't be virgins either, because what boy will be interested in a girl who doesn't have sex? This is exactly what Shut Out talks about. How every person is different, and there is no right or wrong when it comes to sex. And it's just fantastic!
'There were a lot of things I wasn't getting lately. Like it wasn't OK to like sex too much because then you were a slut, but not having it made a girl weird. Or how boys like Cash could get away with flirting too much but a girl would get trash-talked for doing the same thing.' (p139) 
'"...I want to know what's normal." She hesitated and then looked down at her bare feet on the tiles. "I want to be normal, but no one talks about sex, so how should I know what normal is?"
I considered this for a second. She was asking the same questions that had been running through my head for weeks: What's normal? What is expected of us?
"You know," I said quietly, "I don't think normal exists."' (p185)
As I was reading, I felt there was a similarity between Shut Out and Anatomy of a Single Girl by Daria Snadowsky. Where Anatomy of a Single Girl has it's main character exploring her sexuality in a very positive way, it doesn't cover the negative attitudes generally felt towards girls who enjoy their sexual freedom. With Shut Out, those attitudes are there in full force, but are also turned on their head. Lissa's best friend Chloe enjoys having sex. She's had a lot of casual sex with many different boys, and has a reputation because of it. Some of the girlfriends in on the strike have really awful opinions of her at first because of it. But Chloe doesn't care, and is quite comfortable with her sexuality.
'"Look. This is stupid," she said. "We live in a supposedly equal society, so what's the big deal? I'm not ashamed to think about sex. Or talk about it. Or have it."' (p230)
There is another character, Mary, who admits, reluctantly, that perhaps the strike won't work for her and her boyfriend, because they've yet to have sex; she's a virgin. She expects judgement, hence her reluctance, and that's also what she gets - even from Chloe. The judgement isn't in the sense that they think she's a bad person like the others think of Chloe, but more of increduality. Why hasn't she had sex yet? What is she waiting for? They can't really get it round their heads. Yet it turns out that not everyone is quite as honest at first about their own level of experience.
'"You're not weird, or a prude, or a tease, or any of that," I assured her. "Actually, I think it's great that you're waiting. It's sort of refreshing. And sex is a big deal, so you shouldn't rush it just because everyone else is doing it. I think it's a major decision."' (p113)
But as the story progresses and the girls get to know each other, Keplinger shows that things aren't so black and white. And as time goes on, Shut Out shows those same girls not just being accepting of where other people are in their sex lives, but being supportive of each other's choices. When these girls open up and talk about things, they take away the stigma and turn stereotypes on their heads at the same time. Judgement becomes understanding becomes acceptance and support.
'As the room erupted into chatter again, I realized just how happy I was that I'd started the strike. Sure, it had started because of the sports feud, but now it was about so much more. It was about independance and confidence and breaking free of stereotypes and labels. Now, win or lose, I had these girls - these friends -who'd proven to me that there was no such thing as normal, and that I had nothing to be ashamed of. Even if the boys won, I'd got something out of this strike. Something important.' (p235)
'Chloe didn't have all the answers, either. I knew that now. But she had known something all along that I hadn't: that being ashamed of what you want or how you feel is pointless, and letting anyone else make you feel that way is a waste. We all wanted different things, and that was OK. Chloe wanted sex without commitment. Mary wanted to wait until she was ready. And I wasn't sure what I wanted, but I didn't want to make any decisions until I knew. And I was proud of that.' (p321 - Emphasis my own.)
I did have one issue with Shut Out though. It feels very young. The characters are supposed to be 18, but they feel more like they're 14. On the one hand, with what it teaches, this is pretty good for the teenagers I feel should be reading this book, those in their mid-teens, but my personal taste is to have the characters act more like their age. There is a romance in Shut Out, and it's very sweet, but again because of the how young the characters acted, I got frustrated with them and rolled my eyes a few times.

Saying that, for the good it does, this book is great! And the plot of the rivalry and the strike is just perfect as it gets those girls together to have those very important conversations. Not my favourite book, but one I would highly recommend.

Thank you to Hodder Children's Books for the review copy.

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Published: 5th June 2014
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
Kody Keplinger's Website

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