Friday, November 24, 2006

Sexy (Joyce Carol Oates)

Sexy is the latest young adult fiction novel from the very prolific Joyce Carol Oates. I love her adult novels, although I have only read a small proportion of them. Her young adult fiction shows the same skill with character and depictions of intricate social situations as her adult novels.

Like another of her young adult novels, Big Mouth and Ugly Girl, Sexy examines the hysteria that can develop from relatively innocent events, especially in suspicious small town environments. In Big Mouth and Ugly Girl, that hysteria resulted from the (imagined) threat of a high school massacre. In Sexy, it involves accusations leveled at a gay teacher in a conservative small town high school.

Oates' talent lies with her incredible ability to create realistic characters. Here the central character is Darren Flynn, whose good looks attract attention. He cannot control his 'sexiness' and the notice that it gains him, sometimes from unwanted sources. He is crippled by his inability to forge his own character or to express himself and is terrified by the English teacher who challenges him on this.

Oates does not shy away from difficult issues in her young adult fiction. At first the novel seems to prepare the reader for some kind of sexual abuse, however what actually happens is much more complex and ambiguous than that. Without wanting to give too much away, Darren must deal with the fact that he is attractive to others, including some men. However he is also forced to take sides when his teacher becomes the victim of a hate campaign.

Oates captures the world of teenage boys with incredible accuracy. The pack behaviour, the need to actively assert their heterosexuality at any cost, is instantly recognisable to anyone who works with teenagers.

I would recommend this novel to teenagers, with some reservations. The moral terrain here is complex and requires a certain level of maturity to negotiate. To adults, I would recommend the novel unreservedly. Sometimes the distinction between 'adult' and 'young adult' fiction seems so random, sometimes it is a result of nothing more than the high school setting, as seems to be the case here. Sexy is a small novel that asks big questions of any age group.

4 comments:

Brandon said...

Aside from the short story I linked earlier, I've never read Oates. I'm interested in picking up a few of her books now.

jess said...

I really enjoyed 'Middle Age: A Romance' and 'I'll Take You There' if you're interested in somewhere to start.

Anonymous said...

It is a faced pace and excellent book. Requires a certain maturity for most topics. Very recomended!!!

élo said...

I really enjoyed that book ! I agree with you when you say reading it requires maturity. Here I hope I will pick up some great books in English. I'm sure I will if you loved To Kill A Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby, two of my favorite readings !