Monday, 23 August 2010
Review: Losing It (edited by Keith Gray)
Melvin Burgess, Keith Gray, Patrick Ness, Sophie McKenzie, Bali Rai, Jenny Valentine and Mary Hooper. Some of today's leading writers for teens are gathered here in a wonderful collection of original stories: some funny, some moving, some haunting but all revolving around the same subject - having sex for the first time.
I may be mistaken but I think this is the first time I have reviewed an anthology of short stories on this blog, and what a book to be the first (pun intended). This is the kind of book that will have old fashioned, Daily Mail reading members of the British public up in arms, demanding that it be banned from schools and the Young Adult section in libraries across the country. And yet, if they bothered to stop and actually read this book they would discover that it could play a small part in helping our society to improve its shameful record of teen pregnancies and underage sex. Strong words, I hear you say, but I stand by them - books like this are very important, yet also seen far too infrequently on library and school bookshelves.
The above blurb from Amazon says it all - this book is a compilation of stories about teens losing (or trying to lose) their virginity. It is something that at some point will monopolise the thoughts of every teenager in the country, whether it be because they are desperate to have sex for the first time, whatever the consequences, or whether they want to save themselves until the time and other person are right for them. And just look at the list of authors who have contributed a story to this anthology - readers are certainly in good hands here.
As with all short story anthologies some of the stories are stronger than others, but as a collective effort it is brilliant. The stories are in turn poignant, funny and cringeworthy and I think most teenagers would run the gamut of emotions as they read through the whole volume. The book also covers a variety of different scenarios, including a boy who questions his football coaches maxim that sex before a big match will affect his performance; a girl living in India and the cultural attitudes of her society concerning relationships and sex; and a boy who is coming to terms with being gay and whether he should feel ashamed of this. This latter story is written by the hugely talented Patrick Ness, author of the Chaos Walking trilogy, and it is probably my favourite story in the anthology. Patrick uses a very crafty device in his writing by having all the 'rude' bits blacked out, as if censored. And I'm not just talking about the occasional word - in places there are whole paragraphs blacked out. I am sure there is many a teenager out there who will find it hilariously funny to create their own idea of what is going on in these blacked out areas.
I think there is something for every teenager in this anthology, and I know that many could gain enormously from reading it. I also feel that many adults will find it hugely entertaining, possibly in a cringing way, as they think back to how it felt being a teenager worried about losing their virginity too soon or too late. Losing It should be on the shelf in every school library, and the copy that Andersen Press kindly sent me will be added to our collection when the new term starts. There is also a fantastic Losing It blog that has been launched to tie in with the book. There are already a number of comments on there from the various authors and Keith Gray (the book's editor), as well as comments from readers who have expressed their own thoughts about losing their virginity.