Morris Award Finalist: Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Carrie Mesrobian is a finalist for the 2014 William C. Morris Award for her debut novel, Sex & Violence.  The award Photo Dec 03, 4 17 40 PMhonors previously unpublished authors with the year’s best books for young adults.

Evan Carter has moved around from one town to another his entire teenaged life. His father, a Ph.D in math and computer science, is hired by clients all over the country and he drags Evan along. Not since Evan’s mom died when Evan was 11 has his dad really been present in Evan’s life in any sense. Evan, nearly 18, is used to his dad’s distance because he’s got other preoccupations – girls. Even though he might be the new guy at all his schools, he’s never had any trouble meeting and hooking up with them. He even has a strategy and can profile a girl as “The Girl Who Would Say Yes.” That’s worked well for him until he hooks up with the wrong girl named Collette at his Charlotte, NC school and finds himself nearly killed after her ex-boyfriend and another guy savagely assault him in the school’s communal showers. Afterward, Evan and his father move to the family lake in rural Pearl Lake, Minnesota so Evan can recover from a multitude of injuries, including a broken nose & ribs, hearing loss in his left ear and the removal of his ruptured spleen.

During the spring and summer at the lake he has the chance to hang out with other local teens his age. They are celebrating their last summer before college doing “last things” they haven’t done before. Evan tries to fit in with them and pretend everything’s okay but he’s quiet and withdrawn and is suffering from PTSD. Therapy helps but he’s still unable to shower inside so the lake becomes his nightly bathtub. He’s also obsessed with having short hair since when he was beaten up it was long and easy for his attackers to grab.

Evan narrates his story in the first person and it’s through the letters he writes but doesn’t send that we get a sense of what’s he’s really like. He writes to Collette that he knows that he’s been “a dick” and “a slutty seventeen-year-old” who didn’t care what it cost others – especially her – until it cost him something – and that’s a key to the book’s title. Given the subject matter, you’d think the book would be grim and depressing but there’s also a lot of humor in Evan’s self reflection too. He’s spent so much time with girls he knows them and his observations about them are wryly funny – as are some of the situations he finds himself in  – such as his hilarious attempt to install a lock on the bathroom door.

He becomes interested in his cute next-door neighbor Baker, despite the fact she has a boyfriend. She’s not like the other girls he’s known and has a mind of her own. By getting to know her she helps Evan begin to understand what having an emotional relationship with another person means. Some of what Evan learns about his father, mother and uncle also give the reader more insight into what’s shaped him. He also gets involved with another girl who has a boyfriend with a bad temper. Will he find himself in the same situation as before? Can Evan learn to make a real connection with a girl and really get to know her before sleeping with her?

The story’s plot meanders a bit and the ending was a bit rushed but it’s still a compelling read. The fact that Evan doesn’t have all the answers but realizes he can and wants to change even if there’s no guarantee that it will be a quick or easy process is what made the book feel real to me. That and Evan’s character. Despite his behavior, Evan isn’t a bad guy, but a typical teen guy who thinks about sex a lot and acts upon it maybe more than most.  Kudos to Mesrobian for getting into a guy’s head as well as she does. If you want to know more about the author, see Hub blogger Molly Wetta’s interview with Mesrobian from December 19th.

-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos