Tuesday 21 July 2009

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Interview with Serena Robar

Serena Robar was kind enough to give us a few minutes of her time to talk about her YA novel Giving Up the V, and to talk about the subject of sex in YA. There are some spoilers in this interview! Do not read if you don't want the story spoiled for you!

How did you come up with the idea for Giving Up the V?

The inspiration for the story came when I was sitting in the doctor’s office for my yearly GYN visit. A harried, fifty-something male doctor was talking to the young female receptionist. He asked her what “Giving up the V” meant. It seemed his last patient was a teen girl who was there because her mother wanted her on the Pill, but she told the doctor she wasn’t ready to give up the V yet. I knew instantly I had to tell that story. I had to explore the reverse peer pressure of a girl who wasn’t obsessed with sex when her friends and perhaps even her mother seemed on the pro-sex bandwagon.

You started the book with Spencer’s first visit to the gynaecologist. Was it important to you to show readers what happens when someone visits one?

Oh, I remember my first visit. I was completely unprepared and remember wondering about where to put my underwear. Also, my doctor was all about showing me what he was doing and when he pulled out a mirror so I could look down yonder, it completely freaked me out, lol.

It was interesting to read the difference in attitudes towards sex from Spencer and Alyssa. Why did you choose to include Alyssa’s subplot?

It’s important to see a contrast in attitudes about sex in high school because everyone has their own idea of when it’s right and when it’s not. I tried to show how sex can complicate serious relationships such as with Morgan and Justin. It’s one thing to have sex in a monogamous relationship but what happens when you break up and he sleeps with someone else? That’s the real test if you were ready for sex or not.

There were no actual sex scenes in the book. Was this because of the decisions of the characters, or did you intentionally steer clear from writing them?

Oh no, spoiler alert! Lol. There is so much talk about sex that actually having sex seems to take away from the story. In high school, everyone talks about sex. A lot. But is everyone actually having it? That was sort of the point of all the conversations and none of the action.

It seems that all different types of guy were included in Giving Up the V; the nice guy, the bad boy, etc. Did you intentionally create characters that fitted these types, or was that just who the characters were?

It was intentional because these archetypes exist for a reason. There are people like them. Everyone knows a ‘Ryan’. The hot boy who can have anyone he wants and frequently does with little consequence. Sort of leaves a wake of broken hearts in his midst. At one point, my editor didn’t seem to believe that Spencer would ever consider dating Ben because she was too level headed. I told him that he would have to trust me to know how a sixteen year old girl thinks and that if a super hot new boy started noticing them, they would be flattered and sort of ignore the warning signs. Girls, at any age, want to be noticed and liked. Even the level headed ones.

I loved reading this book, and the characters in it. Will there be a sequel, or someone else’s story, like Ryan’s?

I originally planned for this to be a series, each book focusing on each character but the publisher saw it as a stand alone book. I wanted to write Alyssa’s story next. I thought it would be a great book if Ben sort of turned into a stalker ex because he’d never been rejected before and that happens sometimes. Sex is very intimate and you can get a little crazy. What a nice reversal if it was the girl who was doing the love ‘em and leave ‘em and the guy who breaks hearts is the one who gets clingy and needy. It would be a great book. Hmmm, I might have to work that out.

What’s your opinion of how YA novels are dealing with the topic of sex?

I can’t remember the last time I read a YA book that included sex and thought, wow, that was poorly done. I do think some writers make the mistake of talking down to teens and get preachy. I take the opposite approach. I give them a bunch of different scenarios and let them decide what to take away. Giving Up the V is a very candid look at sex and peer pressure today but it ends up being a very sweet story. A lot of talk, but not a lot of action. Sort of like teen boys in general .

Do you think there is a limit on what should be covered in YA novels?

That is a tough question. As a writer, no. As a parent, yes. How is that for ambiguous? My daughter read Giving Up the V when it was still in manuscript form. She has always read my books before they went to print so when she saw the manuscript laying out she assumed she could read it. She was thirteen at the time and if I had my choice, I would have waited for her to read it until she was older. However, that being said it was an amazing tool to open a dialogue about teen sexuality. She had questions and the candid conversations between Spencer and her friends made her realize that even though I was her mother, I understood what she was going through. I think teens look at their parents and think we couldn’t possibly know what it was like to have sexual urges or hormones because we appear so old to them. So in control. They forget we were a teaming mass of insecurities, just like them. I wish every parent would read Giving Up the V and give it to their teen to read so they can talk about sex in high school and cite the examples in the book to talk about consequences and personal beliefs.

What books did you read as a teenager, and how well do you think they dealt with talking about sex?

I read Judy Blume, of course. She was required reading and still is. The thing was, I read adult romances from Junior high upward. My neighbour was a hardcore reader and she belonged to tons of book clubs and when she was done reading the books she would simply throw them away. Egads! Can you imagine? My older sister discovered this travesty and offered to take them off her hands. She was thrilled she didn’t have to lug them to the dumpster anymore and my sister and I got a 2 paper bags filled with the latest category, historical and contempory romances released each month. It was heaven.

Now, my mother had no idea what was written about in those books or she might have wigged. I am sure if she’d known we were reading all about heaving alabaster globes and turgid man staff’s (the 80’s were all about euphemisms for body parts. Now writing is more direct. You call a spade a spade and a well, you know …) she would have put a halt to our free library. However, they answered a lot of my questions and it started a lifelong love of reading romance and because of that passion for reading, I am an author today. Though I will admit that I could never figure out why boys weren’t as romantic as the heroes in romance novels. That is why Zach is so romantic in Giving Up the V.

What do you think about parents not allowing their teenagers to read novels with a certain sexual content?

I think every parent has to make that choice for their own child. Some teens can handle books with a lot of sexual content and others can’t. That is the job of the parent. I wish parents were less afraid of reading the material themselves before judging a book by the cover. I think some parents might look at my book and think the title encourages teen sexuality and they would be so wrong. It’s a beautiful book that helps teens look at the issues in a candid and hilarious way. It opens dialogues. More parents should read the books their teens are reading. Take advantage of bridging the chasm that erupts between parent and teen during those difficult growing years.

Thank you Serena, for such a wonderful interview! If you have any questions for Serena, get cracking and ask them. Serena has been lovely enough to agree to pop over and ask any questions you guys may have.


  1. Great interview - I thoroughly enjoyed reading that!

    I wondered a whole lot of things about the gynaecologist visit scene when I read it, but from this it sounds like it's based on personal experience, which possibly answers many of my questions. That's interesting!

    I think Alyssa's story would be a great read. I loved Spencer's story too, though!

    I can't think of any more questions right now but I wanted to say thanks to Jo and Serena for a fascinating interview!

  2. Great interview! Sounds like a really good book!

  3. I'm glad you both enjoyed the interview! Haha, I'm glad I asked the right question to get the answers you wanted prior to you asking them, Luisa! Lol, a psychic moment on my part maybe? :P

  4. Sorry, I couldn't read it as I don't want to see the spoilers.

  5. That's fine, not many want books spoiled for them. I hope you enjoy the book when you read it!