Cherry by Lindsey Rosin (review copy) - There's a first time for everything...
Layla, Alex, Zoe and Emma are four best friends with not a lot in common. Well, except one thing . . . But they're determined to lose 'that thing' by the time they graduate high school. Yes, the time has come to Do It. To make love. To have all the sex. It's momentous, it's huge, it's important and it's life-changing. Or... is it?
Although each of the girls sets out with a pretty certain idea of what the Big Moment will be like, as they'll discover, life doesn't always work out the way you expect. And in their search for something huge, important and life-changing, they'll discover that they already have it - in each other. From Goodreads.
As you'll know from the Sex in Teen Lit month long events I've previously held, I'm passionate about YA novels that deal with sex and how they portray it. So when I heard about Cherry by Lindsay Rosin, I was so excited to read it! And although I had a great time reading it, I'm left with slightly mixed feelings.
Layla, Alex, Zoe and Emma are best friends in their senior year of school. Once they graduate, they'll all be going their separate ways. All but Alex are virgins, so when Layla decides she's finally ready to have sex with her boyfriend, and both Zoe and Emma want to have sex, she comes up with the sex pact. They will all attempt to lose their virginity AND - as Alex is no longer a virgin - have good, enjoyable sex by graduation. This isn't so bad for Layla, who already has a boyfriend, but the other three are single. Zoe is pretty shy and blushes at the mere mention of sex, Emma is stressing out so much about the prospect of graduating, and Alex is hiding something. But they're all determined to go through with the sex pact, as it's the last thing they'll be able to do as a group. But not everything always goes to plan.
As I said, I'm really a big fan of books that have sex at the heart, especially if they're going to be realistic and not make out that sex is something completely beautiful and magical every single time. Cherry was that kind of book, and, on the whole, was extremely sex positive. These girls really talk to each other about sex; they ask questions, they talk about their experiences, they talk about penises, they discuss dick picks and porn, they have proper real life conversations without any judgement. No-one is bashing anyone for not knowing something. They talk about the subject with curiosity and interest. They even have frank conversations, more than once, about themselves masturbating. There are even several scenes of the a couple of the girls masturbating (separately and not at the same time, of course, this is not that kind of book). It also takes a look at double standards; Alex enjoys kissing guys, and she's kissed a lot of them, and because everyone knows she's had sex, too, she has a reputation and gets crap for it, and yet her neighbour, Oliver, is exactly the same as her, and yet he's a "stud". It really is quite sex positive, saying girls are allowed to kiss whoever they want, girls can be sexual beings who want and and enjoy good sex. There is emphasis on having good sex, not just losing their virginity; the girls should have an orgasm - or "firework" - at some point, the idea being that girls can and should enjoy sex.
And when it comes to the sex itself, it's wonderful! There is mess. There is sex that is ok but not brilliant, sex without "fireworks" most of the time, first time sex that is uncomfortable, sex that is over sooner than they'd think. It's just real. But it's not overly graphic or gratuitous either; we don't get a blow-by-blow (hehe, pun intended) description of all that happens, but we're given enough to know what's happening. This isn't a book that's aiming to be a turn on; the girls may be 18 and soon to head off to college, but this isn't a new adult novel. But it is still a little sexy, but I think that mostly comes from how the girls are feeling about the sex their having, rather than because of how the sex is described. Really, it's just brilliant how Cherry handles it all.
Except... well, the pact itself. I found that a little problematic. All girls must have sex by the day they graduate. Ok, they don't have to. No-one forced them to be part of the pact, and there's no issue, mostly, with you deciding to back out. But there are some issues. Emma is stressed enough about almost everything in her life, and Layla asking for progress reports each week isn't helpful. And because of this, I do have slightly mixed feelings about Emma's first time. If there was no pact, would it have happened? I can't say either way for sure. It's a possibility. But if it would have happened, it wouldn't have happened then. The whole idea of the pact and whether having sex before a certain date is a good idea is addressed, but I would have liked a little more on that, because to me, it just feels... a little like peer pressure. They all want to have sex - great. So why can't they just have sex when it happens, rather than have a day they must have lost their virginity by? It just felt a little contrived. I think without the pact, some of them would have had sex how they did anyway, but for others? Maybe not. I just wasn't comfortable with the idea, and how their "progress" was important.
And also, a number of times is ableist language used through the novel. I counted, and "lame" appears ten times, and "lameness" once. Now I know how harmful such language can be, I can't help but notice it, and it makes me uncomfortable. There are so many other words you could use instead. It just doesn't sit right with me.
Saying that, Cherry is pretty diverse in some respects. Alex is a woman of colour. Emma has a Japanese-American mum and an Irish-American father, and her being a quarter Japanese shows in the shape of her eyes, and she mentions how it leads to questions about where she's from. Emma also discovers throughout the course of Cherry that she isn't straight. Or, at least, that she's attracted to a girl involved in Year Book with her, Savannah. She has been attracted to guys in the past, but there's no indication as to whether she's a lesbian or bisexual, as there's only ever really one conversation about her sexuality, and it's about how she doesn't like labels. Her story isn't so much about her sexuality, in regards to how she sees herself, as it is about dealing with being attracted to a girl and their relationship. There are some scenes of Emma having sex with Savannah, and there is a conversation about what actually counts as sex between two girls, and I think it's all done really beautifully.
I did really enjoy Cherry over all! It was very funny, but also very frank, and had such wonderful things to say about friendship, and there are a number of individual romance stories to get invested in. There are a couple of awful love interests, but also some really lovely ones. You go through a whole range of emotions while reading this book, and it's such a good fun read... apart from my issues with the pact itself, and the ableist language. I'd really love to hear what anyone else thought of the book, because I really am of two minds.
Thank you to Hot Key Books for the review copy.
Published: 25th August 2016
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Lindsey Rosin's Website