TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Teen author — and I mean that literally; she's still a teen! — Kody Keplinger had a big hit last fall with her debut YA novel, "The DUFF." Kody is back this coming September with her sophomore effort, "Shut Out." If you loved "The DUFF," or if you're otherwise a fan of smart, breezy romps, then you'll delight in reading "Shut Out." It's a fun, steamy novel filled with believable girl friendships and some refreshing discussions of female sexuality. Plus, did you see the cover? How cute!
"Shut Out" is a loose, modern retelling of the Greek play "Lysistrata." In "Lysistrata," the women of Ancient Greece banded together to stop the Peloponnesian War by using a pretty ingenious method: they withheld sex from their lovers as a way of forcing the men to put down their weapons and negotiate a peace settlement. In "Shut Out," Lissa — get it!? — is tired of the constant battles between the football players (her boyfriend Randy is the quarterback) and the soccer guys. The sports fighting takes up nearly all of Randy's attention, and when a young soccer player is injured in a prank that goes too far, Lissa decides to take a stand. She gathers the other football girlfriends, as well as the rival soccer player girlfriends, and convinces them to withhold all affection — from kissing to sex — to get the boys to end the feud.
Of course, this being a teen novel, Lissa's campaign does not go exactly as planned. Along the way, Lissa breaks up with the incredibly doofy Randy — he's the worst kind of cheater and cad — and begins flirting with the dreamy Cash, her co-worker at the library (which, yes!) who also happens to be a star soccer player. Lissa had kissed Cash on a starry night the previous summer, when she was briefly broken up with Randy, but Cash never called her afterward. When Lissa starts twisting her honorable intentions around from feud-ending to settling her own score with Cash, the novel really takes off.
I have to say, I was surprised by the fact that Lissa isn't the typical YA heroine (you know what I mean, the smart, confident, sarcastic type). Her mom died years earlier, leaving Lissa with way too much responsibility for her paralyzed dad and older brother, Logan. Lissa is rigid and controlled about everything (Randy, cooking meals, her library job, Logan's whereabouts), and her anxiety — though presented in the book as an eccentricity or quirk — is prevalent enough to interfere with her life. Her counting of objects and excessive planning are manifestations of obsessive compulsive disorder, which, if not thoroughly addressed, is at least acknowledged. It gives her character unexpected dimension.
My favorite thing here is the portrayal of female friendship and, along with it, a frank discussion of teen sexuality as it applies to girls. Good looking out, Kody! Lissa's best friend Chloe is widely viewed as a slut. Rather than shy away from this label, Chloe embraces her sexuality and makes no apologies for the fact that she enjoys sex, even when it's not part of a formal relationship. As Chloe points out, why is it okay for a guy like her hookup partner Shane to have lots of sex, but not a girl like herself? Bitchy Kelsey, one of the football player's girlfriends, is cruel and demeaning to Chloe … until a series of sleepovers help her see beyond the stereotype. We later discover that Kelsey doesn't much like sex at all, while other girls feel pressured to hide their virginity because that's way too uncool. All this girl talk feels real and honest, never preachy or didactic. And when the girls start learning more about each other and forming honest friendships, it feels like an authentic progression in their characters' lives. Nicely done.
As for Cash, he's swoon worthy and kind and funny and … yeah, you know the type. And while there's no story here if Lissa stops overreacting / assuming and simply asks Cash why he never called her after their summer kiss, I can live with the plot device. Cash and Lissa's flirting and makeout scenes — at the library, folks! — are fresh and steamy, and you'll definitely root for this good guy … even if he is a soccer player. 😉
Is everything perfect here? No, of course not. Kody is terrific at portraying teen behavior, language, and friendships, hitting every bitchy and insecure note along the way. And she does a great job of providing some punch and sexual tension in a book that, surprisingly enough, has no actual sex. But her writing style still needs work — how many times can one character "grin" at another? — and she would benefit from some tighter editing.
All that will come in time. For now, read "Shut Out" for what it is — a fast, funny, believable story with an original hook, great female characters, and an honest discussion of female sexuality. It's a shame this book won't be released until autumn, because it'd be perfect for the beach (who doesn't want an effervescent, romantic page turner in the summer?). "Shut Out" is sure to find a wide audience among teen girls (the cursing and sex talk here probably push this one towards 8th grade). One of my teen readers breezed through "Shut Out" and loved it. I'm sure she won't be the last! "Shut Out" will be published in September. Look for it then.