Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review: The Lighter Side of Life and Death by C.K. Kelly Martin

Found via: Good Books & Wine

Books about relationship and sexuality often look at first love from the girl's point of view, carrying on the old trope that girls are interested in love and boys are interested in sex. So after reading April's review about this "gripping portrayal of growing up and burgeoning sexuality for a teenage boy, my curiosity was definitely piqued!

The Lighter Side of Life and DeathMason Rice, 16, is on top of the world. The school play has just finished, emotions are riding high for everyone, and on the night of the cast party he sleeps with one of his best friends, Kat. Life is perfect, right?

Until school on Monday when Kat starts avoiding him. She won't return his calls and eventually confronts him in the hallway, telling him it didn't mean anything and they should just forget it ever happened. Oh, and his other best friend, Jamie, isn't too happy either - he had a crush on Kat and is convinced the whole evening must have been less-than-consensual with the way Kat is acting.

With his feelings hurt and ego a little bruised, life at home isn't any easier, as his dad's girlfriend and her two kids are moving into their house. With home no longer a refuge and his two best friends not talking to him, Mason befriends a friend of his new step-aunt - Colette. Beautiful, witty - and 23 years old. As Mason tries to forget the broken  heart Kat left him with, he dives into the forbidden with Colette, determined to enjoy this relationship for as long as it lasts.

It was interesting to see a slight role reversal between Mason and Kat here - Mason is the one who is convinced their sleeping together means he and Kat can finally have a relationship, while Kat is the one saying he should forget about it. However, it's only a slight reversal because it becomes pretty clear that for Kat the evening did mean something; she just doesn't want to face what has changed.

Mason and Colette's relationship on the other hand is pretty hot. They're definitely in a weird place - 16 years old is definitely underage, but Mason doesn't seem to be coerced into the relationship, and initially pursues Colette. Of course, she could have/should have said no, but it's certainly not presented as a weird abusive relationship. Colette isn't in a position of power over Mason (not a teacher, coach or even close family friend), so there's no weird power dynamics in play, either. On the other hand, as an adult it's also a little weird to read the relatively explicit sex scenes between the two, because in the back of my head I'm going "He's 16! I don't care how hot he is!"

This is a book that expects some maturity from its readers, and I absolutely love it for that. The book presents several relationships that are outside of the teen romance norm, and doesn't pass judgment on any of them. It's up to the reader to interpret these relationships as healthy/unhealthy, positive/negative or somewhere in between. This is the type of book that is considered "dangerous" by some adults because it doesn't present a black and white view of the world - and that's exactly why books like this need to continue to be written.
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