When I first thought about starting this blog series, Up in Seth’s Room (c. 1979) is the book I primarily had in mind. It’s an interesting book for me to re-read for a couple of reasons. First, I really loved it, read it many times, and can remember many, many details about it. I haven’t read it in a long time and am absolutely convinced I will still love it and that the story will totally hold up for today’s teens. The other reason this is an interesting book for me is that it brings up issues of sexuality in books and reading the right book at the right time.
The gist of the story is that a young teenage girl and an older teenage boy are attracted to each other. He is 19 and she is only 14 or 15. Seth lives by himself (or with his brother? definitely not with parents), which right there is a big deal. When the girl (whose name I don’t even remember! Laura?) spends time with him, they have many opportunities to “go all the way.” Her parents are really upset about this and don’t want her to date him. She feels that she can handle herself, but when she is with him and for the very first time discovering sexual feelings, she realizes that stopping may be difficult.
I read this book one summer when my older cousin had it and lent it to me. I read a lot and happily took it and read it. I was 10 or 11. And, as it turns out, totally not ready to read a book like that. It was the first time I had ever heard or read the phrase “to come” and had no idea what it meant. I asked my cousin and she told me to ask my mom, so I did. That’s probably a pretty safe way to learn about sexual experiences, and happily my mom was very frank and open and did her best to answer my questions. I can also vividly remember a scene in which Seth puts his hands down his girlfriend’s pants. I was pretty shocked by that, and now, at 40, I can still see the scene in my head. I mean, clearly it’s not that shocking (it was not described in any greater detail than the words I just used), but definitely images and phrases from the story made such an impact on me that I’ve never forgotten them.
I wonder, how I would feel about the book had I read it when I understood a little bit more about boys and girls and sex? This book was essentially my first experience with sex beyond the basic facts of reproduction and, as such, was completely eye-opening and personally significant. A very good example of the right book at the right time — not just how well a kid reads! It was not the right time for me! Now, before I delve into my tattered and aged copy, a couple of other notes: the cover is completely groovy and I thought perfectly conveyed the story. Also, her dad is a long distance truck driver, a detail that was so exotic to me that I loved every sentence given over to her dad. And here I go…