My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Sex and Violence” was one of those books I wanted to read the second I saw the summary. I’m a sucker for good contemporary YA and the promise of a well-drawn male perspective was too much to pass up. Despite its somewhat melodramatic title, I read “Sex and Violence” in one day. Almost one sitting, too, because I kept being drawn back into the story every time I tried to put it down so I could get my chores done.
Evan is used to being the New Guy–in new towns, new schools, and new houses that never feel like home. To make the constant moving more bearable, he hooks up with a different girl, or girls, in each new place he lives. He’s become accustomed to brief, casual intimacy without any consequences, until he is brutally beaten in the dorm showers at his boarding school for fooling around with the ‘wrong’ person. When his dad moves them to his hometown of Pearl Lake, MN, Evan has a chance to build normal relationships with the locals and maybe put his life back together.
I love a good ‘recovery from trauma’ story as much as the next person, but one of the things I loved about “Sex and Violence” was that it didn’t conform to most of the trauma story conventions. Evan’s life initially centers around what happened to him, but the more comfortable he becomes in Pearl Lake, the more that trauma fades from the forefront of his mind. Instead of constantly pretending to be normal, Evan’s okay a lot of the time. But when he’s too much in his own head or exposed to a situation with unpleasant triggers, all his memories of the assault come rushing back. The trauma impacts Evan’s life but doesn’t halt it, and that felt like one of the most realistic aspects of the story.
The other was Evan’s voice. It sounded so real to me, like if I’d managed to get inside the heads of some of the guys I knew in high school, this was what it might have been like. Equal parts crude and funny, open or withdrawn, no facet of Evan’s personality felt exaggerated or inexplicable. All of the secondary characters were similarly well-sketched, and it’s a testament to Mesrobian that none of them fell victim to cliche or caricature.
My only sort of complaint with the novel is that its pacing tended to drag between the bigger plot points. It never took the easy way out with its many difficult questions, and because of that unflinching realism, I felt that the tension could’ve been higher overall.
Otherwise I’d recommend “Sex and Violence” to just about anyone. A quiet trauma novel compared to many others, but one lending a perspective that desperately needs to be heard.