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There's a new trend in teen fiction
to get more sexually explicit, and most of the books in this genre seem to be
badly written (see
the review of Rainbow Party in Metapsychology 10:19).† At
first sight, Laura Ruby's Good Girls is just another example of this
trend.† Audrey is a 16-year-old high school senior (she skipped a grade) who
hooks up with her Luke (who isn't quite her boyfriend) and she is kneeling on
the floor in an upstairs room giving him oral sex when someone comes in and
takes a picture.† Soon the picture has been seen by everyone at school and has
also been sent anonymously to her father.† Audrey is mortified and struggles to
cope, and as she does so she talks more about sex with her friends.† By the end
of the year, she has understood the different standards males and females are
judged by, the importance of reputation, and the ways the she herself used to
judge other girls as sluts.† In outline, the plot seems rather generic and
similar to other books in the genre.† However, Ruby's writing is distinctly
better than most other "young adult" authors and even though Good
Girls is probably gives more detailed descriptions of Audrey's sexual
activities than would be found in other books in this genre, it is not
exploitative or cheapening.† If teens are going to read about sex (and of
course they are) then Good Girls provides a thoughtful exploration of
the issues, and is good read too.
What distinguishes Ruby's writing
is her ability to give Audrey a little depth, complexity and hidden resources.†
Her relationships with her parents are complex and sometimes difficult, but on
the whole they are positive.† She makes new friends as the year goes along, and
in doing so she discovers more about herself.† She was a straight A student
before the photograph incident, and rather than hurt her grades, she studies
harder afterwards, and does better in her classes.† Ruby also provides Audrey
with a past that makes her more interesting.† At Christmas, when in the store,
she starts saying "hey" to the plastic Jesuses, and this provokes her
Hey, baby.† It's what I used
to say to my mom's stomach when she was pregnant with Henry.† I don't remember
it; I read about it in a notebook I found hidden at the back of my mother's
closet.† She was only pregnant for five months before she lost him.† The last
entry in the book, the entry my mother wrote a few months after Henry died,
said that I kept patting her belly, saying Hey baby, hey baby, Hey baby.†
She wrote that the last time I said it, my father put his face in his hands and
cried.† She wrote that I never said it again.
Audrey doesn't return to this
again, but the paragraph makes her a richer character, and we are drawn to like her.† When
she writes about her relationship with Luke, she does not hide her own feelings
of physical longing and the excitement she felt about being with him.† She also
is careful about the complex weaving of her lustful feeling with her liking of
Luke and the affection she has for him.† Her friends talk about their
relationships and complain how their boyfriends are self-centered, and the
girls celebrate when one of them finds a boy who is able to please her.† So
Ruby quietly sets out ideas of the importance of women's pleasure, double
standards, and women's friendship, while at the same time setting her story in
suburban New Jersey with a "good girl" lead character who goes to
church every Sunday.† All this adds up to a worthwhile novel for mature teens
who will not be shocked by frank yet relatively brief depictions of sexual
© 2006 Christian Perring. All
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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