Book one of the 48-hour Book Challenge binge. Let’s start things off with a bang. (Um. Pun intended. Just read the book, you’ll see.)
Olivia was sitting on top of her new suitcase in the courtyard of Yale’s Old Campus writing in her notebook. She had scrawled the word CASTRATION on the top of the page and was in the process of listing genital-based rhymes. So far her list read: menstruation, masturbation, elongation, lubrication, penetration, simulation, fornication, copulation, urination, ejaculation, insemination.
Olivia’s researching castration. Her sudden interest was brought on by the trauma of walking in on her father, recieving a blow job from one of his graduate students. Max, on the other hand, is very fond of his genitals, in their current fully operational condition. Both teens have a quick sense of humour and flair for rapid-fire banter. When they meet up at a summer arts program, a perfect storm of double entendres ensue. Because Max, prone to brief, intense bouts of true love, has decided that he’s madly in love with Olivia. Olivia has sworn off boys and romance–her state of mind is reflected in her summer project, the musical of the title, Castration Celebration. Add some supporting characters to the mix–Max’s stoner roomate Zeke, who has a flair for musical composition, perky queer girl Callie, Olivia’s ditzy but goodhearted roommate Mimi, and the steadfast Trish, who collaborated with Zeke on a school musical last year–and the stage is set for one very interesting summer.
First of all, forget all vestiges of adult (by which I mean grown-up) taste and decorum, and attempt to connect with your fifteen-year-old self. The humour in this book is… well, juvenile. Risque. Lewd. Crude. Offensive. There’s casual, recreational drug use, toilet humour, realistic use of expletives, and oh yeah, an awful lot of sexual humour.
This book is going to offend a lot of people.
However, let’s face it, it’s a totally realistic, uncensored portrayal of a sizeable portion of teenagers, and so, so true to the target age group. Seriously, if you don’t see a couple of teenage boys turning vampires, menstruation, and oral sex into a running joke as realistic, you’ve never encountered teenage boys in their natural habitat. (Likewise, if the concept of the aforementioned offends you horribly, go find another book instead.) Also, as a species, we find sex funny.
The book is a quick read. It spins together the story of the main cast, interspersed with the script and lyrics of Olivia’s musical, which is in turn a riff on The Taming of the Shrew, which is how the couple in the play meet, reading Shakespeare out loud in English class.
Once you’re past the shock factor of songs like “I’m in Love With Dick,” though, sex in general is treated in a fairly reasonable, healthy fashion. When Max, in a fit of jealousy, takes off and has casual sex with a girl he met on the train, he protests that “it didn’t mean anything.” He’s quickly taken to task by the girls for writing off the girl he was with. The characters are drawn in fairly broad strokes, and blurred together a bit at the beginning, but there are some more serious issues behind the masturbation jokes, like Olivia’s family instability, Max’s neediness, and why, exactly, Zeke wants to spend the entire summer stoned in his dorm room.
This book definitely doesn’t come close to Melvin Burgess’s Doing It, and I wasn’t sure if it was anything more than blatant shock tactics at first, but I think that it will find readers. It will be the kind of book circulated under desks and smuggled from backpack to backpack, and no, it’s not great literature, but it’s got more inherent merit than a Will Ferrell movie (yeah, I know, that’s totally a judgement call on my part). There’s nothing wrong with the occasional junk food reading and odds are pretty good at least one or two readers will pick it up and feel like finally they’re seeing something of their own lives and sense of humour. And maybe then they’ll read Doing It…