Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian (Michael O'Mara Books, 31 January 2014)
SEX & VIOLENCE is a raw and honest portrayal of a boy living his life and trying to move on after suffering a traumatic experience.
Finding girls to have sex with has always been easy for Evan Carter, who moves house and changes schools constantly because of his father's job. But when he hooks up with a girl he shouldn't, he provokes the anger of two guys who beat him until he's half-dead. Though he just manages to survive the assault, he finds that it has left him damaged in more ways than one. After moving again to a lakeside cabin in rural Minnesota where his father grew up, Evan starts to learn to see things differently.
Evan's voice was so incredible. I loved it so much. He felt like a very authentic teenage boy to me. This is the second book I've read in a row where I feel like it's really true to life, where nothing's wrapped up neatly at the end, where it's not about the happily ever after or the swoony romance. It was just a story about a regular teenage boy who has a pretty shitty attitude towards women and actually towards people in general: he doesn't have friends, male or female, because he's always moving, and whenever he gets to a new place all he cares about is which girl will be the most likely to have sex with him and how to get her. And he always gets her and leaves her straight after. Then he suffers a horrific assault and he realises that he can't be the same person he used to be anymore. He's still kind of a dick a lot of the time, but it's interesting to read about what goes on in his head.
There's PTSD, there's lingering grief over his mother who died when he was young, and I really enjoyed watching Evan stumble towards healing and start to form deeper relationships with the people around him, especially with the girls, and with his father. The setting was amazing as well: the lake and the small community around it, with an intriguing abandoned house on a small island in the middle of the lake that hides family secrets for Evan. I loved how the story progressed in ways I never expected but it was all so beautifully honest and real. I was completely immersed in it and in Evan's life. It's not a story where anything big happens apart from the assault at the beginning, but it's still really engaging.
But something bugged me about this story the whole time, and it was that the girl that he hooked up with at the beginning, Colette, suffered way, way worse than Evan did as a result of their time together. And yet she just disappears from the story after Evan moves away. Evan thinks about her a lot, and he's guilty about what happened to her, and he writes letters to her that he'll never send, but... That's it. We're just told what happened to her in Evan's words, long after the fact. We never get Colette's voice, never know how she feels about everything. And I found that problematic, because while yes, I totally agree that Evan's story and Evan's trauma is important and worth telling, I also found it disturbing how Colette was just some silent victim who seemed to serve as a prop in Evan's story.
I was also not entirely happy with how homosexuality was approached in this novel. There's a character that Evan and other people in the book keep speculating is gay because he 'looks gay' and wears yoga pants or whatever, and I thought it was just really stereotypical. It was brought up over and over again as well and I was so tired of it. Evan also thought "What part of me looks gay?" when his therapist was trying not to assume anything about his sexuality, which really annoyed me. There was absolutely nothing in this book to show that that sort of attitude was wrong. In fact the book seemed to affirm that Evan was right to try and judge whether people were gay by their appearances. I was still really hoping that we would get a gay character in the book who wasn't stereotypical to counter these things, but no such luck.
Still, I really enjoyed the book. I loved how realistic it was and I loved its explorations of masculinity and sex. I honestly felt like I was getting a snapshot of a real life and experiencing everything with Evan.