Contemporary Young Adult
Received at BEA
Lissa really enjoys spending time with her quarterback boyfriend. That is until they're continually interrupted by pranks conducted by members of the soccer team, a ridiculous perpetuation of a long time feud at their high school. When Lissa finds herself abandoned yet again in favor of payback against the soccer players, she comes up with a plan.
Along with the girlfriends of the other football players and some of the soccer players as well, Lissa institutes a sex strike set to last until the boys can resolve their differences and end the rivalry not one of them can even remember the reason for starting. Everything seems to be going according to plan until Cash.
Cash who was there for her when she and her boyfriend broke up the first time. Cash who took the time to make her feel wanted. Cash who then never called her again when he knew she wanted him to. He takes over as the leader for the guys, and soon Lissa finds herself caught up more drama than she anticipated, learning what was supposed to be simple is anything but.
Shut Out is a highly entertaining second novel from Ms. Keplinger, one that illustrates yet again her talent for being frank and straightforward when dealing with teens and sex without ever glorifying it or protectively covering our eyes as though we can’t handle the reality she’s presenting. Her approach is upfront yet never shoved in our faces, and we can’t help but appreciate that she doesn’t feel it necessary to tiptoe around the issue simply because the target audience is teenagers. In the same vein, she refuses to use the excuse of “being honest” to portray the relationships in a crass or graphic manner, keeping things real while still being appropriate. With Shut Out, we see a variety of reactions to sex and intimacy, both physical and emotional, and at no point is one character’s thoughts on the subject touted as the “ideal” one. Each young woman who takes part in the strike has a different reaction to and level of comfort with sex, and we have the pleasure of reading as all of them learn their individual feelings are neither right nor wrong, but are simply perfect for them and who they are.
Lissa is an enjoyable protagonist, someone who doesn’t stand out in our minds as spectacularly memorable but who has equal parts strength and vulnerability which makes her more than black type on a page. She finds herself the unintentional leader of a group of teenage girls, and just when her behavior with regard to the strike starts to become worrisome, she shakes herself loose and manages to escape the dramatic frenzy she’s worked herself into to return to the more adorably reluctant figurehead we met initially. She walks right up to the line between drama and melodrama and hovers precariously, but ultimately she never completely crosses it, allowing us to see her flaws as realistic as opposed to annoying.
Perhaps the most interesting character is best friend and resident “slut” Chloe, a young woman who neither apologizes nor makes excuses for who she is, but rather owns all the pieces of herself with pride despite the ridicule and negativity directed her way as a result. She’s honest with everyone around her (bluntly so), but more importantly she’s honest with herself in a way that makes us take a moment of introspection as we evaluate the way we see ourselves. It’s her confidence that–while inspiring petty jealousies and snide remarks in the beginning–gives the other girls the strength to admit things they never before would have, thus paving the way for all the girls to take positive steps forward. The reasons Chloe gives for engaging in more casual sexual relationships may be frowned upon by many a reader, but her self-acceptance is something admirable, especially her ability to let the rumors and nastiness roll off her while maintaining a positive opinion of the woman she sees in the mirror.
Though not quite as emotionally intense or raw as The DUFF, Shut Out is a fun addition to Ms. Keplinger’s resume, and ultimately has us greatly looking forward to whatever she’ll come up with next.