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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

'Shut Out' by Kody Keplinger

From the BLURB:

Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it's a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part, Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy's car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend's attention

Then Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: She and the other players' girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won't get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace. What they don't count on is a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first. But what Lissa never sees coming is her own sexual tension with the leader of the boys, Cash Sterling...

Lissa is sick and tired of coming in second best to her boyfriend, Randy. For the last ten years Hamilton High has had a bitter Civil rivalry going on between the football and soccer players. The football boys hate that their funding was cut to make room for the soccer team, and the soccer stars despise being treated like second-class citizens just because they don’t participate in the great American past-time.

The boys take the rivalry seriously. There are car-eggings, dangerous pranks, cafeteria slinging matches and a great divide throughout the school. Soccer VS Football. Even the soccer player’s girlfriend and football player’s girlfriends avoid each other.

Lissa even ‘broke up’ with her best friend because she started dating footballer Randy, while Ellen dated soccer captain Adam.

So Lissa has had enough. She will not keep coming second to this rivalry – Randy will never again leave her shirtless in the back seat of his car after it has been egged. Because Lissa has a full-proof plan. A plan that will require both sporting girlfriend’s join forces and end this rivalry. No more sex until the boys play nice with each other.

But Lissa’s plan could be compromised by soccer star, Cash . . . Cash, who Lissa has been crushing on ever since a disastrous party a few months ago. Cash, who flirts with every girl at school but doesn’t date any of them. He could just be the boy to end this sex strike, if he can get Lissa to compromise her mission.

‘Shut Out’ is the new young adult novel from Kody Keplinger.

After I read ‘The DUFF’ (Designated. Ugly. Fat. Friend) I was convinced that Keplinger was the modern Judy Blume – a fresh and edgy new voice for the younger readership. I was impressed with Keplinger’s frank and cutting examination of high school sexual politics, and her risqué writing was impressive and addictive. So when I read the blurb for her second novel, ‘Shut Out’, which is loosely based on the Greek Aristophanes' play ‘Lysistrata’ (about a sex strike to end a war) I was really excited. Another titillating plot, focused on teen sexuality and with a dangerous rivalry as the trigger! Yay! Except . . . ‘Shut Out’ doesn’t quite live up to ‘The DUFF’, and that cutting provocative voice I loved so much isn’t as well done in this second novel.

I thought the idea behind ‘Shut Out’ was great, especially because there are very few authors who would be brave enough to tackle Lysistrata for the teen set – for all of its focus on sexual warfare. I especially loved that the ‘war’ was a civil one – being fought between boys from the same school, over a ridiculous sporting rivalry. It is such an ingenious plot, and one that allows Keplinger to examine the power of sex – the one-upmanship of sexuality between girls and boys, and between girls too. She looks at the conflicting sexual normalities between the sexes, and the unfairness of sexual stereotypes like ‘slut’ and ‘prude’, when compared to the boy’s sexual lexicon of ‘stud’ and ‘player’. I loved all of these explorations . . . but I didn’t so much appreciate Keplinger’s execution.

It just seemed to me that Keplinger did a lot more hand-holding in ‘Shut Out’ than she did in ‘The DUFF’. Both books explore similar themes (albeit, with vastly different plots) – and one of the duel topics was regarding unfair male and female stereotypes. In ‘The DUFF’, I felt like Keplinger allowed readers to reach their own conclusions and decisions regarding unbalanced typecasts – and she did it without shoving ideas down reader’s throats. In ‘Shut Out’ I felt like Keplinger steered readers a lot more aggressively, by using Lissa’s inner monologue to pretty much lay out all of the messages of ‘Shut Out’. I didn’t love this. Whenever authors use interiority to do a play-by-play of the ‘themes’ of the novel, I do feel talked down to. As though the author thought I couldn’t get there on my own, without hand-holding. This example of ‘illustrating the obvious’ was distilled in her naming of Lissa’s boyfriend, Randy – because, guess what?, his main role in the novel is as a slimy horn-dog. Hence, Randy. Subtle.

There were a lot of things I wasn’t getting lately. Like how it wasn’t okay to like sex too much because then you were a slut, but not having it made a girl weird. Or how boys like Cash could get away with flirting too much but a girl would get trash-talked for doing the same thing. Or how my boyfriend seemed to think it was okay for him to put me second to this rivalry crap, but when I decided to do something about it, he wouldn’t take me seriously.
I was starting to think I just didn’t understand anything. Like there was some handbook to adolescence and dating and boys that was passed out in middle school on a day when I was absent or something. I wondered if other girls were as clueless about all this stuff as I was.


Keplinger did this in ‘The DUFF’ too, another novel told in first-person perspective. I don’t know why, but her hand-holding just seemed a lot more prominent in ‘Shut Out’. And it’s kind of a shame, because Keplinger didn’t need to lay it all out so blatantly for readers, we didn’t need her help to get there and state the obvious. She set up these explorations beautifully by framing them around such a tight plot with its roots in a Greek satire.

The above complaint aside, I did enjoy ‘Shut Out’. I especially loved the main romance of the novel. Cash is swoon-worthy; he’s a sensitive and bookish boy who struggles with his clear crush on Lissa. He’s so gorgeous, and he and Lissa are adorable together! Keplinger writes romantic teen tension brilliantly, as she illustrated with Bianca and Wesley in ‘The DUFF’, and again with Lissa and Cash. Sublime teen romance is fast becoming Keplinger’s trademark.

I maintain that Keplinger is a fun and fresh new voice for the young adult readership. She writes cutting-edge teen politics and isn’t afraid of a little sex to spice things up and get her message across (she just needs to avoid shoving that message down reader's throats!) . . .

3/5

2 comments:

  1. I have been wanting to read The DUFF forever. I've seen mixed reviews on Shut Out. I think I have this one, I'm going to have to go check :)

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  2. Kody Keplinger blew me away with her debut novel The DUFF, so I went into Shut Out with the hopes that she could pull out something even half as good. Shut Out was definitely that, I would say that I loved it almost as much, and that is saying something. I was hooked from page one of Shut Out, and devoured it in one sitting.

    Shut Out is a battle of the sexes, a love story, a tale of friendship, and more. I'm not sure how Kody Keplinger managed to put so much into one fun-filled story, but I'm so glad that she did. I can't count the number of times I found my self laughing out loud. I experienced the characters emotions (and trust me they were many, and wide ranging) but that is what made this story so enjoyable.

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